As a vegetarian, when I consider the prospect of having a child I must ask myself whether to bring her up on the same diet as mine. I have met people who resentfully continue to be vegetarians because their parents brought them up that way and they could never ingest meat properly. Is it fair for parents to treat a child in this way and would you answer that question differently if the majority of adults, but not children, had freely chosen to be vegetarians and were now asking themselves the same question?

Hello My Veggie Friend,

This is a question that also puzzles me. I am not sure if fairness is the central issue.

Let's deal with the resentful vegetarians who continue with the program because they 'cannot ingest meat properly.' My understanding is that born-and-raise vegetarians can adapt to a meat diet. They will encounter some initial stomach upset, but this will go away in short order. From a nutritional point of view, someone raised vegetarian could make the switch. From a moral and psychological point of view, the change will be much more difficult.

I don't know why you personally are a vegetarian. For me, I eventually became convinced when I read the classic article "Eating Meat and Eating People," by the fabulously smart Cora Diamond. I won't try to recount her views here precisely, but what I took away from the article was simply that people become committed to vegetarianism when their concepts of food no longer includes animals. I suspect the resentful vegetarians you describe aren't afraid of a tummy ache; they can't conceive of animals as food, and resent their parents for that. As adults, they want to change their conceptions of food but simply can't.

Our parents do shape who we are and how we see the world. Of course rebellion is always possible because that's the whole point of being a teenager. (A voguish teenage rebellion in my high school was to become a vegetarian. Perhaps those raised in vegetarian households strike back at their parents by sneaking out to fast food joints to scarf down big macs.)
Mature people will have to reckon with the concepts and values their parents imbued in them: religion, politics, fashion, music, food, the whole gamut. It's possible someone raised vegetarian will not forgive her parents for having shaped her in this way. But it is also possible she won't forgive them for raising her Catholic, or Republican, or preppy, or jazz-loving. This is the risk of parenthood.

I think the best we can do is to try to engage children in dialogue (in age-appropriate ways) to explain the paths we make through life. And be prepared for tears when you have to wrestle the hot dog out of little daughter's hand at the neighbor's barbeque.

I've thought about this issue a lot, as a vegetarian with two children (now both 12). We decided it would be better to let them choose for themselves. My thinking was: if we raised them as vegetarians, they would inevitably come into contact with meat and feel curious, tempted, guilty. Out of concern for their wellbeing, I wanted to avoid that. I also thought they would experience vegetarianism as an imposition and eventually rebel against it. Plus, I wanted them to have the experience of confronting a moral issue for themselves.

This is how things have turned out (so far)--When my kids were very young, all the food I prepared was vegetarian, but I bought cold cuts for sandwiches, let them order meat in restaurants and at school. At age 6, my daughter decided to stop eating meat. I practically discouraged this, giving her permission to change her mind, give in to temptation, etc. In fact, she became steadily more consistent, resolute, and outspoken. At age 12, my son made the same decision.

I think it's better for my children that they've made their choices, and I suspect these choices will be more permanent for being their own, but we'll see. I'm proud of them for the choices they are making right now, but I continue to think it's up to them. I recognize that it's hard having a diet that reduces your options and puts you at odds with everyone else.

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