Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When your vegan kid starts to question meat...

I knew it was only a matter of time. Benjamin, my 5-year-old, has been talking more and more about eating meat. Well, lately it's all about turkey, since everyone in his school talked about it for weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Even afterward, he was asked, "How was your turkey?"

Ben is starting to get that he is different than other kids, in that they all eat chicken nuggets and hamburgers and ham sandwiches. I have always told him that "Most people eat animals. In our family, we don't eat animals." He's always accepted this but now he's starting to think more abstractly about this concept and what it means.

I'm not totally comfortable imposing such "weirdness" on my child. It's a struggle that I would think most vegan and vegetarian parents deal with: we want to be true to our ethics and beliefs, and we want to minimize animal suffering, but at the expense of our children suffering?

Ok fine, different suffering. But you know what I mean.

Here is my approach. I tell him, "If you want to eat meat, that is your choice. I will not buy you meat with my money, but you can buy meat with your money or have meat at your friends' houses or at parties. Do you understand that this meat is ground up animals? Real, furry or feathery animals, with blood and a heart and a brain, that had feelings and were killed?"

This way, I figure, he is making his own informed choice, rather than feeling that he HAS to say no to meat. Of course, I spare no detail. And I maintain, why should I? I was told recently that this is "too much information" and I should lighten up. I disagree. I say why not be honest with the kid? Imagine all parents reminded their kids where their food came from! No, most parents lie; is that better? They go as far as to assure their children that the animals they're eating are "not like our pets" and are "meant to be eaten" and "don't feel pain" in order to desensitize them early and preserve this... disconnect that is really unnatural for children but become the norm as adults. Children naturally adore animals and if we allowed them to understand what meat really is, what is so terrible?

Plus, I think that this approach may decrease the likelihood that he will "rebel" and go on a meat binge when he's eight, just to push my buttons. If I don't give him those buttons to push, then there's no drive to eat meat other than curiosity. Exploration of this nature is better than doing it to get a rise out of his parents.

In my heart I think that he will "experiment" eventually, but that he'll ultimately return to a vegetarian lifestyle. But time will tell.

I welcome your thoughts on this and your advice for approaching children and dietary choice.


yseult the fair said...

I admire you for how you are raising your child to be loving and compassionate.

That said, I hope you have a good support system.

I'm mom to two older teenage girls, both in college. I failed to inspire them to follow my lead as a veg*n. In my case I had little support. A grandmother who sneaked ice cream, candy and made them steak every time they visited, and didn't care a jot for my parenting preferences. My ex-husband initially got me into veg*nism, but then lost interest over time. Eventually my veg*n enthusiasm bored him.

The only advice I can offer as a failed veg*n mama is to love your kids, follow your own light and be a joyous, creative example, and do your best to avoid making it a power struggle. I made the mistake of falling into power struggle with my older girl, and eventually just didn't fight when the younger girl also wanted to eat meat.

Who knows? Maybe in time they will re-examine their diet. Right now its pretty typical crappy teenage junk.

The saving grace is that they are pretty informed about factory farming and animal abuse, and don't believe the hype that you must eat meat to be healthy. They are, I trust, informed omnivores.

Best wishes, and thanks for your blog!

Vegan Aide said...

I have three children. We are all vegan. I have a 15, 13 and 10 year old. They know where the animals that are on dinner plates come from and they are very empathic about it.

I know they will always be veg because they really care. They haven't always been vegan (my youngest since she was 1), but they are well aware and think the other kids are the ones who are 'weird' - to think that the other kids don't know or care bothers them.

I homeschool as well, so they seem even stranger than mainstream society, but maybe that has helped them to not be destroyed by all the negativity.

I remember, though, that my oldest son went to kinder for a little while and took his lunch and knew what was what and why we did what we did.

I also feel, though, that at that young an age he was not ready to make the vegan decision for himself. He needed the reinforcement that parents provide regarding limits. Would you be okay with your kid doing drugs if his friends did drugs? No. You would not tell him that it is his choice or that he can buy it with his money or that he can do it at a friend's house.

My 2 cents and I am not judging you. We all do the best we can. But the first comment was about someone who had great difficulty not just because the kids were vegan in a non-vegan world, and not because grandma snuck in the ice cream (my mom did the same thing and my kids looked at her like she was loopy), but because it sounds like her hubby was not supportive. Spousal support is paramount. It shows the kids a united family front - this is what our family does and for this reason.

Being vegan is not the same as limiting sugar or fat. Being vegan is ethics and being honest with your kid (kudos to you for that) and setting limits for the younger children is important. My kids now know that if they wanted to eat meat it would be their choice. We've had that discussion. They haven't been tempted and feel that my offer was rediculous.

Good luck!

Dina said...

Thank you both for your thoughtful comments. It's interesting to learn of other perspectives.

I am very lucky to have a good support system. My husband is vegan and my parents and in-laws are very sensitive to our diets and accommodate us every step of the way.

Ben still has not eaten meat (except once accidentally). On the one hand, he sees everyone else doing it so he wants to do it as well. Understandable. On the other, he gets regular reminders from the family of what meat is and why we don't eat animals. In his world, governed by rules and limits, he wants everything black and white (as most kindergarteners do). Thus it is a challenge to navigate these waters. We do our best, as all parents do.

For the record, no, I would not have the same attitude about drugs as I do meat. Drugs are illegal after all, and of course lead to all sorts of trouble. Meat will kill you too, but not as quickly ;-). Fortunately, the dominant view on drugs is that they are bad for you. I would love to see the day when the same can be said for meat.