Thursday, 18 August 2011

To Meat or Not to Meat

My seven-year-old daughter recently decided she's a vegetarian. It's not a huge stretch in our family since we don't eat much meat to begin with, which is a conscious decision I've made for reasons that people generally think are lame.

Bria's reason is the usual one: if she eats meat, she has nightmares about chickens attacking her and scratching her face to shreds with their talon-like claws. What? That's not the normal reason?  Well, anyway, it stems from the fact that she feels it's immoral to raise animals solely for the purpose of killing them for food.  The idea of eating a living thing, to her, is unthinkable.

And the kid has conviction. She asks whether there's meat in everything we eat:
"Is there any meat in this spinach?"
"No, it's just spinach."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's not a genetically engineered spinach-cow hybrid."

When it comes up that Bria's a vegetarian (like when other people try to feed her and then I get an angry So did you know your kid's a vegetarian when you sent her to my house?!? text message) people offer advice about how to trick her into eating meat, or how to explain to her that she MUST eat meat, or how to starve her into submission.

Nobody ever says, "Wow, good for her for following through on something she believes in." Except her Dad, which is fortunate for her since he makes half of her meals. I don't understand how I'm supposed to raise a kid to have a solid moral compass, and be able to make her own ethical decisions, and to stand up for what she believes in if the very first time she ever develops a principle, I grind it into sad little pieces with my parental veto. It absolutely floored me that almost everyone disagrees with me on this.

Also, a lot of people seemed to feel the need to ask me whether I was consulting with some kind of guide about what my daughter should be eating. This annoyed me because obviously I would do that, and it made me laugh because I know that some of their kids don't exactly eat according to the Canada Food Guide. Meat is not some kind of cure-all contains-everything magic food, people! Your kid isn't for sure healthy just because he/she can pack away a steak.

I also feel I should mention the fact that I've spent the last seven years telling my daughter that her body belongs to her and her alone and she makes the decisions when it comes to her said body. Wouldn't I be undermining that message if I told her that I and I alone control what goes into her body? Telling her that she can choose what she eats (within reason and in broad strokes--I'm not saying she can just run amok with the food choices) reinforces the lesson that she's in control of herself AND, believe it or not, that she needs to make responsible decisions for herself.

When your kid makes an intelligent decision about something they feel strongly they should do or not do, don't teach them that they shouldn't bother if it's inconvenient or unprofitable. Support them. Help them get educated about how to successfully do the thing they want to do (or not to do the thing they want not to do). And praise them for the effort they're making!

They're little spirits will get crushed by a wide variety of people and events--don't be one of them. I bet there would be a lot more people in the world doing things that they think are the right thing to do if--as young idealistic children--they hadn't had surly adults crush their belief in the importance and power of standing behind their principles.  So instead, be the person who taught your kids about moral integrity and ethical strength and believing in themselves. That's much cooler.


  1. I applaud her decision! (Being vegetarian myself, for much the same reason.) I worry that I'm not getting all the proteins I should be, but by eating an egg (eggs laid from ethically raised/cage-free chickens!) every few days, I feel I've got that licked.

    Good luck :-)

  2. Thanks, Bruce! We did look up all the best ways to get enough protein and iron into a growing girl, and she's great about eating whatever she needs to so she'll be healthy. We still eat eggs and milk, too, which makes it so much easier.

    Thanks for commenting :)