How do vegetarian parents raise their kids

You're a vegetarian/vegan. Should you kid be?

 

Original Poster:

"I find myself in uncharted waters and so am seeking some advice and wisdom.  Sorry for the lengthy post in advance.
I was raised vegetarian for religious reasons and have stayed vegetarian my entire life.  I married a man who loves his meat, but when we had kids, we agreed we’d raise them to be vegetarian until the arbitrary age of 15 when we’d allow them to choose.  Our older child, however, has decided he wants a say much sooner than we anticipated.  Given he idolizes his omnivorous father and has only omnivorous friends at school, we shouldn’t be surprised.  Along his 9 years of life, he’s asked thoughtful questions of my vegetarianism and the vegetarianism imposed on him:  Why no meat, but you wear leather, for example, or what if the animal was already dead on the road, or, why can’t I make my own decisions about what to eat.  For a while, he got his father to agree not to eat meat when they were together, but that proved to be a hard promise to keep.
Last week, our son tried meat at school for the first time.  I don’t think he would have told us but I happened to find out accidentally.  During our usual end-of-day catch up, which always includes a “what did you have for lunch today” query, he had me promise I wouldn’t be mad before he revealed that he tried chicken and deli ham (deli ham, really?) and said he loved it.  For him, it’s a way to connect with friends and bond with his father over food, but I also believe there is a forbidden fruit aspect to it.
The question now is, what to do?  Our relationship, and keeping it an open and honest one, is paramount.  I can’t control what he eats and so forbidding it is pointless and disrespectful to his burgeoning independence.  My husband and I have made clear that we’re happy he is beginning to make choices for himself.  We’ve also discussed that just like I was raised vegetarian without any real thought into it, so was his father raised to eat meat without any real thought into that. We asked him therefore to become informed before he continues down this path of eating meat.  He agreed.  He has kept to this promise, although today he had a great interest in trying the meat option at school, acknowledging he hasn’t done any research, and so we agreed he should feel free to try it.  He has asked that we help him do a little bit of research every day. My questions are:

1) What age appropriate (9YO) resources exist to educate oneself on the pros/cons of eating meat?  How animals are farmed for meat production? Environmental impact? Health benefits / consequences? Etc.?

2) Has anyone navigated this course before, what did you learn and how would you do things the same or differently?

3) Have you put parameters around your child’s non-vegetarianism?  For us, eating meat would need to happen outside the house (but ok when we’re out together as a family), not at the grandparents’ house, and when at school, the non-veg entrée also should be sampled.  Pros/cons?

4) If he chooses meat, how do I become educated to help him make good choices?  As to organic fruits/veggies, I kind of know what to look for.  Clueless about meat / seafood.

5) Lastly, it seems our son thought he “got into trouble” about this.  I felt horrible when I learned that’s how he felt and have gone out of my way to assure him that isn’t true.  Tips for avoiding this dynamic in the future would be greatly appreciated, unrelated to this topic of food choices.

 

Replies

Encourage agency:

"I spoke with my husband and we are both vegan. We are raising our son to be vegan. He's 5 and just started kindergarten. We have told teachers that if he wants to eat non-vegan stuff, that it is not their place to "police" him. So far, he has taken ownership of his veganism and asks if things are vegan before he eats anything.
My husband and I decided that if he wants to eat non-vegan foods or wear non-vegan clothing etc. that it is his choice. We just will not let the non-vegan stuff in the house or buy it for him (e.g. he would be able to eat it at friends houses, school etc.)
I am a practicing catholic. My husband is an atheist. I go to church every Sunday and on holy-days. Our son was baptized. We offer our son a choice on whether or not he wants to go to church or engage in religious activities. When he was younger (2.5-3) he chose to stay home with his dad. Our son chooses to go to church with me now and has since he turned 3.5.
We try to encourage agency and empowerment as much as possible...with all that said, our son is a patriots fan/red sox fan and so is my husband.   ;)  Seriously though, if he wanted to like another team, i'm sure it would be okay....
I hope that is useful."

 

Encourage experimentation! Let you child play with as many food choices as possible:

"I became a vegetarian at 13.  My father is a vegetarian, my mom eats meat.  My brother eats meat, I do not.  I don't each fish nor fowl, either.  I love cheese too much so, despite the rennet, I chow down.  My dad is stricter than me (I'll eat eggs and veggie burgers cooked on the same grill as meat), but also eats cheese.
My son eats meat.  His father eats meat.  For a while my son ate fish, but stopped when he got pickier.
I encourage my son to eat as many different kinds of food as possible.  I know for sure I have missed out on many life things by not eating meat, but I just could never bring myself to eat it. I wouldn't worry too much about education, let him try what he likes.  Just make sure he is also getting a good baseline nutritionally from you, and then you don't have to worry about the "supplemental" stuff.
In a few years he's going to do what he wants so better that he take a more measured approach to food now.  I wasn't allowed to watch tv growing up and binge watched looney tunes in college as a result.  Everything in moderation and try everything a little bit is therefore my parenting motto....
Suspect you simply have exactly the opposite situation than most people have with their kids!  Good luck sorting through it."

and

I think you may be over-complicating this. Since he's nine and has expressed that he wants to make his own choices about what to eat, that's how you proceed. You've already mentioned the only (and sensible) guideline: that you won't prepare meat for him at home, but that he can eat whatever he likes outside the home. It sounds like you've already given him the education about the two options and he's been exposed to both, so I wouldn't make him research or try to further educate him on your views. He's giving you a clear signal that all he needs now is the freedom to choose his own food. Let him experiment. Wherever he ends up diet-wise as an adult is up to him, and it will probably evolve over the teenage years.

 

Encourage any meat eating decisions based on sustainability and localism:

"I am not a vegetarian but have been teetering on the edge of vegetarianism most of my life and feel increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of any animal suffering in order to feed me. Also - on a more self-preserving note, i don't want any cheaply processed, antibiotic and hormone-filled rubbish going into me or my child!
A while ago,  myself and my husband (who is a total meat eater) decided to eat vegetarian during the week but continue to eat meat at weekends. Its provenance is really important to me. In Ireland I used to buy direct from a small organic family farm that had as humane as possible abattoir standards. (Sorry - you probably don't want to think about this). Here we shop at the coop, so the meat is supposedly "ethical" etc. I avoid any pork products because, from the research I have done,  pigs are particularly aware of imminent slaughter as they are so intelligent.
I buy fish from the fishmonger at Bartel Pritchard market on Wednesdays. .. they seem to have very good practices and their fish is all sustainable I believe.
I noticed there was another stall at the market selling "ethical" meat... i would have investigated, only I'm trying to cut meat out! I think the Grand Army Plaza market has several producers. In general I think that's the key. .. buying direct from small producers and asking them about the way their animals are kept - and if you feel up to it, asking about the measures they take to ensure the animals are slaughtered humanely. I haven't tried them but I think there are various "farm to table" options such as Good eggs which might be worth checking out.
I met a lovely woman this summer in France who has been bringing up her daughter vegetarian. Their house is fully vegetarian which would obviously make it easier. .. as would the fact that they live in a very isolated part of the countryside - Also her child is only 4.  Having said that,  vegetarianism is very uncommon in France.  Anyway, they had decided that their child would be vegetation until she could consciously understand what it meant to eat meat and could then decide for herself. At age four the child expressed a growing desire to taste meat. Her mother sent her around to a neighboring farm with the dad. The child chose, slaughtered and plucked a chicken with her dad and then apparently absolutely devoured it roasted that night. I thought this was very interesting, despite sounding a bit extreme to us here in a city. .. it was quite natural, practical and real. Her mother didn't want her to feel guilty at all, but just wanted her to not be detached from the reality of meat. Anyway, obviously that's not for everyone and not even a possibility here. But hearing this story made me realise that I couldn't have done the same... that I couldn't slaughter anything, which made me think I shouldn't eat it in that case.
Sorry for the long waffle! ! I think you've handled it very sensitively so far... i can't imagine your son hiding future consumption from you. Maybe you could encourage him to make an effort to choose good quality meat, while also acknowledging that this is actually pretty difficult to do all the time - especially while eating out with friends. .. (Bare burger is a pretty good option!)"

 

Encourage meat eating to happen outside the home:

I am a vegetarian and we are raising our kids that way. My partner eats meat outside of the house and we've decided that if our kids want to eat meat at any point they can do that as well--they are currently 10 and 7. This makes sense to us and is pretty easy i.e. no extra work for me!

 

Encourage awareness about what you eat and visit a farm:

"I just want to chime in that I think it's a great idea for children to "meet their meat."   I'm vegan, my son is vegetarian and my husband is a meat eater.  Every fall we all go together to one of the farm sanctuary's to either volunteer or visit with the animals.  The Catskill Farm Sanctuary and the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary can be done as day trips.  Farm Sanctuary in Ithaca is further so would require an overnight - but spending a weekend in the Finger Lakes is lovely in the Fall.
And lastly, for a close to the real thing peek at factory farming, go over to Red Hook.  There is a live poultry market in Red Hook - I think on Union Street."

and

"Perhaps you could also take a trip to a farm sanctuary.  There is one in Hyde Falls--called Woodstock Farm animal sanctuary.  It makes for a nice fall outing.
It is important that he can make his own, informed choices.  I became a vegetarian at age 3 on my own and only questioned it when I felt socially isolated, but then kept on going because I knew it was the right thing to do."

 

Encourage informed decisions. Educate your child about eating meat:

"Try farmsanctuary.org for info on the impact of meat eating, particularly the factory farm variety. You would have to check if they have a section for kids. Also check out The Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which is a great resource on the subject from a health perspective."

 

PSP-member recommended reading and watching:

 

Food Inc
website
"I can't answer all of these questions, but the movie Food Inc. really educated me about how meat is handles in the U.S. It hasn't stopped me from eating meat all together but certainly made me think long and hard about the source of my meat before every meal I have put. Beware, you may want to screen the movie first as I did not view it with the 9 year old mind to remember whether it's age appropriate or not."
and
"Food Inc" (the documentary) isn't appropriate for his age, but again is something you and your husband could watch and you could maybe show him a few excerpts that you think would be helpful."

 

Young Readers edition of Omnivores Dilemma
website
"Check out the young readers edition of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.  It still might be a touch out of his age range but you could go through it first and decide what might be appropriate and helpful.  It is a fabulous introduction for anyone who wants to have more awareness about what they are eating and where it comes from."

 

Ruby Rothwebsite
"Ruby Roth has written books specifically on this topic - one is called "That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things."

 

Veducatedwebsite
"
The movie Vegucated is good for older kids--if you fast forward through a couple of scenes (or not, if he wants to see).  It's on Netflix.  It shows 3 meat eaters who give up meat for a certain amount of time (6 weeks?) and learn about raising animals for meat, etc."