What’s a Parent to Do?
by Tammie Ortlieb
I’ve been wondering what I would do if my kids started eating meat again. I pride myself on raising independent thinkers. Each of my children came to the decision to go or not to go vegetarian of their own accord. If they go back on that decision, it will also be of their own volition. I can persuade. I can educate. I can even twist a few arms. But ultimately the choice about what they put into their bodies should be theirs.
Life was much easier, I must admit, when I dished out my kids’ food, and they ate it. Or they picked at it and lamented how they didn’t like their peas touching their mashed potatoes, and they might throw up if they tried tempeh because it looked like an alligator. And I would tell them to hush and eat it anyway, and they did. Yeah, that was a lot easier.
Now, I’m lucky if my kids eat at all. They too often leave the house without breakfast of any kind. And I swear my daughter lives off fruit leathers and Luna Bars. Who knows what they have for dinner, because half the time they’re out with friends. The days of the omnipotent, all-knowing mother are definitely history.
I surprise myself sometimes when I’m reminded that I actually have an advanced degree in a real college field. To hear my children talk you would think I had barely made my way through junior high. So, what could I possibly know about health and nutrition? And why should they care anyway? I’m always worried about food, my daughter tells me. Relax. She will eat when she’s hungry. And she knows what’s good for her and what isn’t.
I’d like to think the teenage years are not all about the bunk I read in the parenting magazines. I’d like to think. The truth is that these are the years of exploration and of establishing an identity independent of mom and dad. These young people absolutely need to become their own person. But to do that, they must try out behaviors that may not be in alignment with family values.
A friend’s daughter ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza the other day. And, yes, the girl is vegetarian. I could hear that little voice in my head chastising her for calling herself a meatless eater and then right in front of everybody munching on a once living being. How dare she? My husband very gently reminded me that any effort toward vegetarianism is better than no effort at all. Easy for him to say, he’s a meat eater!
But he did have a point. Was the young person a lost cause because she crossed to the dark side for a minute? Was the planet as good as gone? I paused to reflect that she was merely trying out an alternative lifestyle in an effort to confirm her own choices. She had, after all, contributed greatly to the cause by following a plant-based diet since third grade. She merely was sampling, if you will, a life choice to see if it was a fit for her.
Turns out it wasn’t. But she tried. And that’s the nature of the game at this stage. The girl may just as well have pierced her belly button or gone for a tattoo. Her friend did. Both. Instead, this youngster tried meat. Three small slices of pepperoni. Big whoop.
At least it was my friend’s daughter and not mine. I cringe to think of my young animal rights activist scarfing down a cheeseburger. Worse yet, in my nightmares she is persuading her brother to do the same. But those worries seem ill founded. To this point my child is still passing out “Love me, don’t eat me” stickers to her friends and teachers. She is still washing her hair with vegan shampoo and wearing shoes that would make any cow proud.
And so far, neither she nor her vegetarian brother has ventured toward the bacon or kielbasa. I feel a certain relief when I think about other mother’s issues with teen drinking or drug abuse. While I’m fretting over sloppy joes and meatloaf, their children are getting loaded at parties every weekend. I may not want my kids to start eating dead animals again, but at least ground beef isn’t illegal.