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.