Otherwise titled “How parenting strategy backfired and turned my son into a vegetarian.”
Eating is a giant interruption in my son’s day. To my observation, he derives little pleasure from eating, rarely comments on his food except when he decidedly does NOT like what is offered, and has an expressed preference for lunches his mother packs over what is served in the cafeteria (okay, a certain amount of motherly pride, there).
And he will not eat meat.
Which is, most likely and entirely, my fault.
While I do not require him to finish his plate (a childhood requirement that almost certainly is largely responsible for my own struggles with weight), and I do not use food as a comfort device (no cookies at the end of a bad day), I do require him to at least taste a bite of each offering, and I do NOT like profligate waste. I hate ANY waste – particularly of food. I consider it shameful to throw away food as long as there are people going hungry. It’s disrespectful and disrespect is a big sin in our house.
It’s not only disrespectful to those who do not have enough food, but when the slaughter of animals is involved, it’s horribly disrespectful to throw away something that an animal gave its life for. I am not fundamentally against the eating of meat, but it has always sat uncomfortably with me. I consider it a luxury, indulged in at the expense of a life, and should not be taken for granted. I can certainly survive on plants alone, but I LIKE meat. Genoa salami alone will prevent me from ever really considering vegetarianism. Aaaaah pigs. If you only weren’t so darned tasty.
But I only can justify my carnivorous tendencies by endeavoring to respect the sacrifice. By buying parsimoniously and by NOT WASTING.
I explained this philosophy to my son when I picked up his untouched plate of roast chicken. “A chicken gave his life so that we can have this food, and doesn’t it seem disrespectful to simply throw it in the garbage?”
As I said, disrespect is a major sin in my house. The giving of respect is the root of all ethical behavior. All of the commandments and sins can be explained in that one word.
Respect the feelings of others.
Respect their possessions.
Respect their personal space.
Respect your parents and your teachers.
Respect exclusive relationships.
Respect your Partner.
Above all, respect Life, and its right to exist. Take no life unnecessarily. Hurt no being if it can be avoided.
You can strip away all the trappings of our legal and moral systems, and they come right down to teaching us to Respect One Another. Fail in teaching that, and you have failed in teaching morality.
The next time chicken came to the table on the plate, Harry took one look at it, and declared “I won’t eat anything that hurts an animal.” Apparently Harry decided he didn’t want to take the moral responsibility for the sacrifice – it simply wasn’t WORTH it to him to eat something that he was indifferent toward. It wasn’t, in his mind, a necessary hurt.
I have had other parents tell me that the point would be moot in their house. That the child would simply eat what was placed in front of him. But the thought of making him eat something that he has declared he is morally opposed to seems akin to committing religious blasphemy. I would no longer make him eat a ham sandwich than serve a Jewish friend a pork chop.
But more than that, the entire point of moral teaching is to give our kids the internal compass and fortitude of character to make their own decisions. It is to instill, not a set of rules of right and wrong, good and bad, but to give them the tools to make correct choices. And if I don’t allow Harry to do that, if I supersede him because he actually takes a HIGHER moral path than I do – what message is that sending?
Our lives would be easier if our little vegetarian actually liked vegetables, but we have managed. He has had momentary lapses where a chicken nugget or his mother’s mouth-watering pork roast has caught his momentary fancy (I pride myself on the ability to produce tasty pig), but in our nightly exercise to find things we are grateful for, Harry recently thanked God for making soy chicken nuggets so that he didn’t have to kill chickens.
I am still not a vegetarian. But I will admit that my son has instilled a bit of mild discomfort with his purely innocent and instinctive grasp of the sanctity of life, and the need not to waste it. His decision was simple and immediate. There was no equivocation (except over the beloved chicken nuggets), and only the occasional rationalization. In this, I feel more like his student than his teacher.
Harry may not remain a vegetarian. He has become more intrepid in his eating habits in the last few years, and it is possible that animal flesh may again have a place on his regular menu. I am not sure if this eventuality will make me a little bit sad or a little bit relieved. And relieved not because that I will no longer have to make two meals at dinnertime, but because I won’t have that disquieting feeling that he has in some way passed me by.