It started with a showing of FOOD INC. I wanted my kids to understand where their food came from. Why mommy and daddy were trying to make a conscience choice to consume less fast food, and so we might have to deny their requests for Happy Meals. The kids were fascinated, and disturbed. From the crowded hen houses to the cows hoisted up by their legs and knocked into machinery for the slaughter, what we saw made us all profoundly uncomfortable.
Then I decided to up the ante a little. A former classmate of mine, Marissa Miller Wolfson, had directed a documentary about veganism called Vegucated. I took the kids to a showing of the film and Q&A with the director at the local library to give them more food for thought. It was not my intention to convert my children to vegetarianism! I myself am not a vegetarian. I just wanted them to have plenty of information about factory farming so they could make an informed choice . They had already been exposed to some of the concepts due to my work with Steckler Grassfed , a local pasture based farm I work part-time for. I just wanted to help clarify the message for them. Even if we choose to continue to eat meat, we are going to do our level best to make sure it's sustainable, that the animals are treated well, and that the food was as nutritious as it could be.
When the movie was over, Alice turned to me and said "On June 1st I am becoming a vegetarian." Her motivation was simple. "I don't want to eat poor creatures."
It sounds like the kind of cute thing kids say, like when they grow up they are going to be a movie star. But she wasn't kidding. On June 1st she became a vegetarian. Since then she has had exactly one relapse where she ate meat on purpose, just a few days after June 1st. I had made a roasted chicken and she ate a few bites. After that, no more meat (except for the times I accidentally fed it to her, but we'll get to that.)
Did I mention this is a 7 year old child?
A lot of people have asked me about my decision to "let" my daughter become a vegetarian. Many adult vegetarians have let me know that they would have made this choice sooner but their families weren't supportive.
1. I respect my daughter's autonomy. As long as she is making a positive choice for her life that doesn't adversely disrupt the rest of us, I am fine with helping her on this path. I cook our rice in organic veggie broth from Aldi instead of chicken broth. I always make sure there are beans on the table. It hasn't been a big deal, really. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to cook something separate, but I can't fault her reasoning. She has a kind heart. As long as she continues to be an adventurous, wholesome eater then I will continue to work with her on this.
2. Forcing kids to do things simply doesn't work. Have you ever tried to force your kids to eat something they don't want to eat? I well recall the Beet Incident of 1982. It did not endear me to beets. I see no more point in attempting to "force" my daughter to eat meat than I do trying to "force" my oldest to eat weird shapes of pasta or cooked vegetables. As long as there are good, wholesome staples I can put in front of them and know they are eating a good balance of nutrients I'm good. My picky son will eat cold garbanzos and raw spinach if he doesn't like what I made for dinner. My daughter will do the same. Why complain?
3. I'm proud of her. Her tenacity really inspires me, and I want to encourage her to keep making choices she can stick to. We have tried really hard not to go halfway (except for the times I accidentally let her eat chicken broth, etc. It has not been easy for me to learn my way around, but I am trying!) She has had to give up gelatin, one of her favorite foods! And she did it. She's had to eschew S'mores at all campfires this fall (because I keep forgetting to buy vegan marshmallows.) And she does it without complaining. For 5 months. At the age of 7. And she shows absolutely no sign of changing her mind.
As you can see, Alice has always thought about nutrition, even if she didn't always understand what it was all about. I'm taking this opportunity to make sure she experiments with food a lot and tries new things. No macaroni and cheese based diet for her! Sometimes my experiments work, like when we order her a pizza smothered in veggies and not just plain cheese. Other ones, like the Portobello mushroom burger, didn't go over as well. But we are learning together.
She's healthy, she's growing, she's mindful, she's kind. She's a new super hero now, Veggie Girl! And I couldn't be more proud.