In our alcove of Arizona, school children participate in an annual event called Cowboy Poetry. My first born is on her 7th year of this and she hates it. She’s an advanced reader, and not an inept writer (you can both infer the meaning and engage in the feeling behind her usually funny words) but she doesn’t come by vocabulary, spelling and grammatical structure naturally (it’s genetic), and finds it all to be a chore. She tested into honors science and honors math. Enough said, right? Does the world need another female english major or another female engineer? In any case, she’s just not into cowboy culture.
But she was inspired this year, when her literature teacher instructed students to brainstorm and extrapolate on words that might form into poetic verse. The teacher said, “And what comes to mind when you think of pigs? Bacon. Dinner. Food.” And my daughter blurted out, “Or they could live.”
No one said a word. She told me all heads had turned her way, and the teacher looked at her as though she’d just ripped off her adorable eleven year old mask to reveal the freaky, hippy, PETA activist beneath. Her teacher ignored the comment and moved awkwardly on, while her best friend shot her a look that asked, “Are you insane?!” Later, that same friend put it to her, “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT?” My baby replied, “Because it’s true.”
And it’s our fault. We’re terrible parents. We taught her to think critically.
She endeavored to explain that, from her point of view, it doesn’t make sense how we only eat some animals and keep others as pets. And the thought of eating those pets (beloved cats, dogs and, God forbid, horses) horrifies and disgusts people. Yet in Korea they’re serving puppy stew. And India thinks us vile for devouring the scared cow (with exception). Pondering this, logically, critically, it’s a little wacky. But that point was lost on her peers.
Again, it’s all the fault of our parenting. My husband is a compulsive debater. He’s not a jerk, he’s actually very light-hearted and fun, but he’s a stickler when it comes to accuracy and validity. It’s just the way he’s wired: “Just the facts, ma’am.” If you state something, particularly with passion, you’d better be able to come irrefutably correct (or that facebook thread will NEVER END). Meanwhile, I long ago chose to be honest with my girls about the questions they pose, in an age-appropriate manner. That includes the truth, as I understand it, about what we eat. And other than laying down some basic expectations (I insist they be honest, compassionate and respectful; towards others and themselves) I don’t demand they think, feel and operate the way I do. I share my opinion on topics such as politics and religion, and ask them to make their own decisions (and yeah, I’m aware kids are developmentally incapable of making informed decisions, hence the whole needing adults to survive thing, I’m merely laying a foundation). The result being, my kids think.
Evidenced by the incident last week, when my family sat down for dinner and the four year old refused to eat turkey bacon – the same way she refuses burgers, lunch meat, diced chicken in anything, so on. It sparked a discussion. Up until that night she hadn’t been taking a moral stance, she’s just picky. Yet, on that particular night she asked where the bacon had come from. I told the truth: traditional bacon from pigs, turkey bacon from turkeys. Her eyes grew large and she shouted, “I don’t want to eat animals! I LIKE ANIMALS!”
Now, I’ll make my kids eat broccoli. I will demand they finish their green beans. I won’t force them to eat meat. “You will not get up from this table until you have swallowed every last bite of the tortured dead cow that was fed another tortured, diseased, chemical-laden cow. And, for godsakes, sit up straight!” Inhumanity aside, it’s common knowledge the meat industry is churning out a product that isn’t healthy or safe. I won’t force my children not to eat it, either (there are grass-fed beef options, etc.). It’s their choice. Giving my girls the freedom to make some of their own choices gives them the invaluable opportunity to think about WHY they’re making those choices. Or so I hope.
And it was the little one’s dinnertime declaration that got big sister thinking. She’d always been on the vegetarian fence. She’d never been comfortable with the slaughter of animals, but she also relishes in the yum of a juicy burger. And, unfortunately, she thinks most vegetables are gross – though she’d happily subsist on carbs alone (wouldn’t we all). Really, it’s easier to just not think about it. It’s easier to be like everybody else. But later that night, without warning, she posted the following on her facebook page:
“So I have decided to try to be a vegetarian. It’s just not right to have these poor animals suffer, even my little sister said she doesn’t want animal meat anymore. I am going to try it for 30 days, see if I can do it, see if I am willing. This is just my opinion on it, you don’t have to agree.”And even though she made that announcement before checking in with the lady who prepares her meals, I told her the family was not just behind her, we were on the meat-free board with her. It was my mister’s suggestion. We’ve been making changes in our diet for years; cutting out pork, cutting back on red meat. Tofu vegetable stir fry and Morning Star products had been in regular meal rotation for some time. We also have many a vegetarian and vegan friend among our ranks. Most influentially, our good friend and health coach at From Here to Whole (<—–click, go, see, be dazzled by her charm) who'd introduced us to fabulous resturaunt options (Lovin’ Spoonfuls, so good) – proving that deliciousness comes in all sorts of meatless packages. Consequently, my kiddo’s decision wasn’t sudden, and our following suit seemed only natural.
The next step was to prepare her for the backlash. Seems the minute someone affirms they are a new vegetarian, someone else is moved to defend meat eating. As if, “I’m a vegetarian” translates to “I’m better than you” or, “Meat tastes terrible” or, “I’m openly condemning your barbaric, terrible tastin’, murder-lovin’ artery-hardened ways….because I’m better than you.” There are the holier-than-thou types, and many of the militant “meat is murder” ilk, but not nearly enough to warrant the immediate “You know you want you some meat, mmmm, meat-diggity-meat-meat-baby-back-meat!” reaction. People who regard vegetarians as weird and/or silly all appear a little annoyed by it, too. And why is that? What’s so threatening about someone declining to chow down on a sausagebaconlambchopkchickenfriedsteakmcmuffin? Being irritated by something that hurts no one, and something no one is forcing you to partake in, maybe THAT is silly and weird.
Just ten years ago my own mindset towards a meatless existence was no friendlier. I never rolled my eyes at the notion, but it went against the grain of my cynical worldview. And that view was: this isn’t a fluffy, kind, cruelty-free planet. It’s dog-eat-dog, man-eat-beast, and man-destroy-man. It’s hard, and it’s cold, and suffering abounds. And while that sucks, it’s also the inevitable way the game is played, here in the insane asylum of the universe – otherwise know as Earth. Thankfully, my perspective has since expanded, and softened.
If charged with the task of having to kill my own food, I might starve to death. Then again, I might consume the stiff, frozen remains of my dead best friend – if left stranded, in dire hunger, atop some snowy mountain (it’s been known to happen). But, at present, I don’t see where my animal-based meals come from, so I’m not forced to think about them. I also don’t NEED to eat them. I don’t live in a society that must hunt beasts to avoid starvation. I live in a society with a Trader Joes. And the glory of avocados in abundance!
And therein lies the lengthy veggie tale (having nothing to do with a talking cucumber who tells Bible stories, sorry) of how our family came to be on day eight of a meat-free experiment. We’re all still alive, obviously, and well. As yet, no one has had the shakes, or sold their blood for a little hit of protein. But there’s been seafood in the mix. Planning a month’s worth of meals, without knowing what I was doing, I decided to start us slow. Every third or fourth meal has incorporated fish. When I mentioned to big sis that we were technically Pescetarians, she said, “Pescah-whaaaaaaaah? Yeah. I’m not going to say that.” To each their own.
As we move forward, in support of her 30 day goal and possibly beyond, I hope she remains compassionate and objective with her naysayers- but doesn’t take any shit, either. A few days ago she was invited to a birthday party. The birthday girl proclaimed everyone must wear neon, and joked, “If you’re not wearing neon you will get a smack in the face and no fried chicken!” My baby countered, “Yeah, okay. I’m a vegetarian.” Her friend replied, “Then….you’ll get a smack in the face and NO VEGGIES!” Hah! Like my daughter wants veggies! But hooray for my baby standing her newly discovered ground. And should she eventually revert back to her burger worship, I hope she doesn’t beat herself up. I know plenty of former vegetarians, too.
On a final, light, maniacal note: I presented the little one with a slice of cheese pizza on night ONE of this undertaking. Little brow furrowed, she asked, “Where’s the good stuff?” What good stuff? Did she mean pepperoni? Yes. “Well, that’s an animal, and you don’t want to eat animals anymore, remember?”
“OH!” A look of relief came over her and, happy to clear up the confusion, she said, “No. I want to eat THAT animal. That animal is delicious!!!”