• Mon, Nov 5 2012

I’m Raising My Daughter Vegetarian, Just In Time For Thanksgiving

thanksgiving 2012I have eaten turkey every Thanksgiving as long as I can remember. My sister went vegetarian many years ago, and every Thanksgiving dinner since, the whole family (including me) has chided her for eating a meal consisting of only “sides.” Last year, especially, I firmly believed the “vegetarians are always protein deficient” bullshit, which was largely indoctrinated in me by my midwife. My pregnancy diet last November was close to carnivorous, and I remember devouring piece after piece of turkey while truly worrying for my sister who ate only cranberry sauce, broccoli salad, mashed potatoes and bread.

In fact, my midwife had me worshipping meat so heavily I even worried my omnivorous family members were protein deficient.

I have now been a vegetarian for eight months, and I’m certain of a few things. One, from the research I’ve done, it turns out that it’s easy to get enough protein from a vegetarian diet. Bulls and elephants don’t eat meat and they’re some of the strongest animals in existence. Two, I feel amazing. I never want a nap. I never feel bloated or uncomfortable. It’s cheaper, too (buying ethically-raised, chemical-free meat is expensive). After apologizing to my sister for poking fun at her all these years, we now spend a good amount of time bonding over shared vegetarian recipes.

But food, like religion and politics, is not something people take lightly. After convincing my begrudging, omnivorous husband, we decided to raise our daughter vegetarian. My parents don’t understand this choice, especially my mom, who has cooked amazing meat-centered meals for as long as we can remember.

Their feelings about my choice manifest in different ways. My dad makes jokes, like, “we had vegetarian steak/potatoes/cupcakes last night,” or by calling himself a “meat-a-tarian.”

My mom, who, ironically, has recently chosen to only eat meat only once a day, is slightly more critical. Over lunch one day, she mentions, glancing over at baby, “you know, she’ll miss out on meat completely if you don’t introduce it to her now.”

“If she wants to eat animal carcasses when she grows up, that’s just fine.”

My dad snorts into his sandwich.

My mom rolls her eyes. “Well, she’ll never want to try it if you put it like that…”

God, I love them. However, it was these kinds of conversations that, a few weeks ago, led me to second-guess my choice. I wondered if I was being a hypocrite. I’ve always said I want my daughter to make her own decisions—that’s why we’re not raising her in any particular religion, and we’re going to refrain from imposing our political views on her, as well. So how could I make dietary decisions for her and still call this an open-minded environment?

I talked to my husband about it, and we amended our original decision. Now, the consensus was that if our daughter reached for meat on my husband’s plate, we wouldn’t deny her of it. This seemed reasonable enough.

But then I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and changed my mind again. Knowing that factory-farmed meat (99 percent of the meat we eat in this country, according to Foer) is inherently diseased, mutated and produced through torture, there was no way I was going to let it come near my baby. I don’t see it as a “restriction” anymore, or that I’m somehow depriving my daughter of making her own choice. If that were true, it would be wrong to deprive children of alcohol, cigarettes and crack cocaine. Factory-farmed meat is known to be detrimental to health, so I’m not depriving my daughter—I’m protecting her. That’s my job, isn’t it?

Of course, this is a lot to explain in casual conversation. That’s why I’m a little nervous about Thanksgiving, a holiday defined by the consumption of turkeys. It’s enough for an adult to pass up the turkey and say, “I’m a vegetarian,” but not allowing my daughter to partake paves the way for a traffic jam of questions from extended family.

I think I’ll be best off just saying I’ve done my research and it’s healthier for her not to eat it. This is the truth, but it’s the truth without going into detail about the gruesome nature of meat production. And the last thing I want to do is make it sound like I’m trying to change my family’s eating habits. After all, a year ago I would’ve been preaching the virtues of animal protein and the inferiority of vegetables.

But for the record, this year I’m totally right. For real this time.

(photo: Brian Chase/ Shutterstock)

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  • Natalie

    I have been a vegetarian for over 15 years (as is my husband) but chose not to raise my children as vegetarians. I personally believe it is healthier for them to eat meat (organic free range chickens purchased from a local farm, as well as beef), and fresh non-farmed fish (we live on a coast where fresh fish is plentiful). I was more concerned with providing adequate protein sources (avoiding soy, especially for my son after reading about soy and boys in particular). I felt like as long as I was providing meat that I know it’s sources, and am extremely comfortable with, it was not my choice to raise them without meat. This is probably a sweeping generalization, but the children I know who have been raised vegetarian are under weight and height. Certainly not necessarily how it always is, but enough to deter me. If, when they reach an age where they decide they don’t want to eat meat, I will help them to ensure they are getting all of the proper substitutions (I did not so that as a teenager and I was anemic).
    Just my opinion! (In fact, after 15 years of no meat, my husban started to eat chicken when we started buying it from the local farm)

    • Eve

      There are 5 kids (most of them grown-ups now) in my extended family, raised as vegan or vegetarian. None of us are under weight or under height; quite on the contrary. Strong, muscular, beautifully built bodies. No illnesses whatsoever. Even common colds are not common for us at all. Just saying.

  • Cassy C

    Two things.
    1 – It’s your child, so if you’re not going to feed her meat, everyone should respect that. No explanation needed (yeah, I know, in theory).
    2 – You have to make decisions for an infant. That’s kind of how it works. My daughter would choose dog hair and buttons as her diet if we let her pick.
    Even though I’m not a vegetarian, I have dealt with trying to explain dietary restrictions and/or choices to my family at holidays before. It’s not pleasant, but I decided to stop putting so much weight on what my family thinks of me. It’s not worth all that effort and anxiety. The point of the holiday is, after all, to enjoy each other’s company – not to make sure we’re all eating the same thing.

    • Jenna

      “My daughter would choose dog hair and buttons as her diet if we let her pick.” I just spit soda out of my nose I was laughing so hard. P.S. My 1 year old LOVES eating dirt.

  • Justme

    Quite frankly, meat is the LAST thing I put on my plate for Thanksgiving. There’s so much OTHER yummy stuff out there that tastes WAY better than turkey or ham.

    • http://twitter.com/KenzieEmery MacKenzie Foster

      Agreed! I almost never eat turkey on Thanksgiving, maybe just a small piece for the sake of tradition. I’m too busy going for the sweet potatoes and green beans and stuffing and noodles, I hardly miss it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505622038 facebook-505622038

      You’ve obviously never had good brined smoked turkey.

  • bumbler

    I’m NOT vegetarian, I’ll even eat sketchy street cart food in asia without blinking, but I raised my daughter vegetarian until she was 2. IDK why but I just couldn’t bring myself to feed slimy, grisly meat to my pure, brand new little person. Not even the holiest farm fresh pampered chicken. I had no logical reason, but the instinct was strong and I try to follow my gut, so I went with it. She now happily gobbles up meat. It’s nuts to think a kid needs to be indoctrinated to meat at infancy. As though kids can’t learn to like ANY food they didn’t have at 12 months? We add new foods to our diets throughout our entire lives. And btw it was also very easy to give her non-meat proteins, much easier than I thought :D

  • K.

    2 things that I think you might want to consider:

    1. You have to recognize that food is social as well and that the social components *might* have an effect on your daughter. I speak from experience. My mother was very restrictive of my diet as a child–fat-phobic, sugar-phobic, etc. etc. When people asked her why I couldn’t eat dessert at Christmas dinner or why I wasn’t allowed to have birthday cake or why the bread-basket was off-limits or whatever, she would talk about health and obesity. At a young age, I became very self-conscious of my body (because comments about obesity would inevitably bring up “well, she does/doesn’t look obese” etc. as if I wasn’t there) and I also felt outcast in a lot of social situations. It’s really hard to be ten years old at a Little League pizza party and watch your mother bat away plates of pizza with a cheerful, “Oh, none for her!” while you battle embarrassment (and famished desire!) as your teammates stare at you like you’re a freak. These issues have had long-lasting effects into my adult life. I’m not saying that you should sacrifice your beliefs for this, but I think you should be aware of these possible ramifications. You might consider how your daughter will feel when crickets chirp as you tell the family turkey is off-limits for her. Now, obviously, kids with allergies and kids who have religious objections to certain kinds of foods have to refuse things too and many get through it unscathed. I’m not saying that should change your decision, but you should at least be aware of how this will affect your child beyond just health.

    2. I happen to be vegan and I’m raising my child vegan as well, but as a vegan, I find that a lot of problems stem from the label versus the actual practice. In other words, I just feed my child what I eat and cook as any other parent would do.

    I’ve also chosen to be flexible in that my child eats what we eat when he’s home, but he’ll eat whatever’s offered to him when he’s outside of the house. My parents feed him animal protein and classmates offer all sorts of non-vegan lunchtime trades, Halloween candy, birthday treats, etc. etc. That’s the sort of thing that works for us. I’m not trying to judge you for how you’ve chosen to go about it, but I’m offering it to you as an idea because I’ve found in my vegan life that sometimes people get a little overzealous with all-or-nothing thinking. It doesn’t have to be that way all the time.

    • Jen

      My parents were the same way when we were young. We didn’t get soda and candy etc. at home but it was ok to eat if offered outside of the home (from a trusted source of course). Actually my parents taught us that when we were in others homes that we should eat what we were served and not to make special requests (i.e. no one at that house gives a crap that I didn’t like hot dogs). I was just told to eat the bun and the sides but not to kick up a fuss. Of course I wasn’t allergic to anything either, so that makes things easy. But because of this I actually found a lot of foods that I liked that my parents never made and I would never have been exposed to. As an adult this allows me to try various foods that others will normally crinkle their nose at. So this might also make them a more adventorous eater, as well as more conscious of what they are consuming becuase they are exposed to more options.

    • alice

      great post. i really respect everything you said. it’s an interesting point to make that you’re vegan, that you’re son is being raised “vegan” in the house, but that there are no restrictions for him outside of the house. because you’re absolutely right: people are way too overzealous with the “all or nothing” mentality.

      it’s one thing for you to be an adult and have reached a conclusion why a vegan lifestyle is right for you, but there’s just no way that your son can grasp those reasons. so your choice is to either FORCE that lifestyle on him (like your mom did, swatting away pepperoni pizza at school functions) or to just immerse him in that lifestyle at home, and let him make his own choices outside.

      kudos for some really rational parenting choices!

      i grew up in a house that nary had sugar cereal or soda or junk food. my mom homecooked everything. it was nutritious without being overzealous. when i went to a sleepover, hell yeah i had frosted flakes and donuts and soda! but it didn’t change me. i didn’t go home and demand wonder bread and fluff.

      there’s a huge difference between wanting to instill healthy nutritious eating habits in your children, and wanting to intimidate them.

  • http://twitter.com/MewMew34 Mew Mew

    Whoever said 99% of the meat we consume is factory farmed is a quack, and I really doubt that much of it is diseased or tainted. I feel sorry for your child, that she’s going to miss out on so many wonderful foods in her life because her mother refuses to allow her to eat a natural human diet of both meat and fruits/vegetables.

    • Julie

      Look, I’m not a vegetarian- I eat meat all the time, and it’s because I just love it so much. Really, I do. Can’t help myself. But I do KNOW that the “natural human diet” isn’t anywhere NEAR as “natural” as it should be. Sure, it *may* be the way our bodies were designed, but no meat is *designed* stuffed full of hormones and chemicals and whatever the hell else they put in it these days. Irradiated meat, pink slime.. the list goes on. It’s not the good old days where men went out in loin cloths and bows and arrows to track down the closest deer to feed their family dinner anymore. Animals are farmed and the meat is processed- to keep it fresh, enhance flavor, beat out competition, etc.

      It’s not your place to feel sorry for any child. It’s the parents decision what they want to feed their kids. You don’t have to eat the vegetarian meals they’re putting on the table, so don’t make rude comments. It sounds to me like this mom knows what she’s doing and has certainly done the research to back herself up.

    • Scarlette

      blah blah blah here you go again telling people how to feel or think. get bent.

    • Julie

      wow, you really have nothing better to do with your time, do you? ooo wait- you following me around now? you my puppy?

      thanks for the laugh!

    • Scarlette

      Haha, copying my comments? Please, Julie. It’s one thing to run into someone else on a site. It’s another to be so completely slow minded that the BEST comeback you can come at me with, is my own! I’d be flattered if it were not such a blatant reflection of your own pitiful stupidity and lack of creativity.

      Honestly? I feel bad for your kids. Seriously bad. One child policy your house.

    • Julie

      See, the difference between me and you is that I don’t bother to comment on your idiocy when I stumble upon your comments. See, I’m an adult, and I act like one. Imitation is not always a form of flattery- it’s also a form of mockery. I’m not going to let you continue to bring out the worst in me, and what you’re doing is borderline harassment. You feel sorry for my kid? I don’t need or want you to feel anything for me or anyone I’m associated with. I don’t care what you think of me, and I get a pretty good laugh out of this whole thing. Grow up, Scarlette. You don’t know me, I don’t know you. But what we do know of each other, we don’t like. So when you see my comments, just pass on by and shake your head if you have to. You don’t need to perpetuate a meaningless argument that has no impact on either or our lives. All you’re doing is showing your nastiness to the world. If you get a kick out of that, then whatever. But I’ve said from the very beginning, I like to be nice and surround myself with people who are also nice. So this of no use to me. Seriously, this is pointless.

    • Scarlette

      Thanks for the novel but I don’t really care what you have to say. Like a Danielle Steele work, I saw this, didn’t read it and found it hilarious. You just love having the last word and I like watching you get all worked about that.

    • Guest

      Okay, cite your source that more than 1% of meat is not factory farmed in the US.

      Refusing to believe reality doesn’t actually change reality, you know.

  • http://twitter.com/katipettit1 Kati

    I grew up in a vegetarian home, got plenty of protein and now I eat some meat. I don’t think I was missing out on much when I was younger, and I enjoy it now.

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