I 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.