How do you explain meat to hildren? If you don’t eat it, are you raising your children as vegetarians, too?
Surrounded as we are this week by yams and brussels sprouts and cranberries and turkey (and those mini hot dogs that have somehow also become a tradition at our family’s Thanksgiving table), the moment seems right to write about vegetarian parents and children.
My two sisters-in-law are vegetarians, along with my husband’s first cousin, which means there are a lot of vegetables included in our yearly feast. As it happens, none of the parents in this group expect that their children will refrain from meat, allowing them to make that decision for themselves when they get older.
Many vegetarian parents do expect their children to eat as they eat, though, and The Los Angeles Times ran a story earlier this month about the challenges of raising vegetarian kids. The writer, Emily Sohn, points out that it becomes tougher as the children get older because:
Resentment can build up if foods are forbidden completely. School-age children in particular can become anxious when anything about them is different from their peers, including what they eat for lunch.
The experts she quotes strongly suggest that parents allow some leeway, such as “allowing kids to eat meat at friends’ houses or restaurants or packing snacks and lunches that look like chicken nuggets or hot dogs but are actually made from soy or wheat gluten.”
But while compromise works for some parents, it is not in the plan for Cindy Waxer, who wrote an essay for Babble recently about raising her 3-year-old on a vegetarian “cruelty free” diet. Her problem so far, she says, is partly the temptation presented by other children. (“What sort of chance does marinated tofu and mango-flecked quinoa stand against deep-fried chicken fingers?” she asks.)
Most of the challenge, though, comes from adults. Her husband, “a committed carnivore, agreed to go along for the ride, sanctioning Chloe’s meat-free existence on the condition that she be free to switch to the dark side if the urge arose.” But others in her child’s life have been less accommodating:
When I informed Chloe’s preschool teacher the very first day of class that my daughter is a strict vegetarian, she snapped her gum and responded: “Oh, O.K. But she can still eat chicken and fish, right?” I almost fainted.
And, she continues:
I spend my days fielding e-mails from my father containing links to articles entitled, “Iron Deficiency Anemia.” Even the normally stone-cold nurse at our pediatrician’s office burst into gales of laughter when a routine check-up revealed that Chloe is a die-hard vegetarian — as if it were a role reserved for hemp-wearing, patchouli-loving adolescents.
The complications are not only faced by parents who don’t eat meat, of course, but also by those who do. A reader, Erika Edwards, sees one of those complications looming on her parenting horizon. In an e-mail message she explains:
My son is 17 months old and loves farm animals. Last night, he was eating chicken, and I thought: “I wonder when he’s going to figure out that the chicken he is eating is the same chicken that he sees in his books, at the farms and petting areas that we visit, etc.? I wonder how he will react? And I wonder what we will do about it?”
How do you explain meat to children? If you eat it, what’s your answer when questioned by your animal-loving kids? And if you don’t, are you raising your children as vegetarians, too?
112 comments as of now ;) The NYT. Illustration by Barry Falls