Thursday, April 23, 2009

Veggie Lovers

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years now. It’s a lifestyle choice that agrees with me across the spectrum: for health reasons, environmental ones, and political ones. I came to this decision on my own when I was fourteen, when I finally realized that consuming meat always made me feel ill, and that when I stopped consuming it, I stopped hating meal times so much. I’m the only vegetarian in my family. I don’t pressure anyone around me to convert, and never tell people unless I find myself in a situation where they need to know (say, as they’re trying to heap a large slab of cow onto my plate).

When I was pregnant, the question came up over and over: will you raise your children to be vegetarian? I was in charge of cooking dinner at home, and my husband, who jokes he is a “reformed” vegetarian (I prefer to think of them as college vegetarians—those who do it for a few years, usually the college years, then let it go), was fine eating vegetarian food at home. He eats meat when he’s on business trips, and he takes a lot of business trips, so he feels the vegetarian diet at home balances out the rich meals he eats on the road.

I tried my best to introduce my girls to meat. Really. I hid my faint repulsion at the aroma of pureed dead animal behind a plastered smile and cheery voice when they were babies. I buy them hot dogs and McNuggets and pre-cooked chickens for dinner. But neither of them wants anything to do with meat. In fact, the only things I can get either of them to eat consistently are fruits and vegetables. There isn’t a single fruit or veggie they’d refuse. My first daughter once picked apart my mother’s sandwich, rejecting the lunch meat being offered in favor of the raw onions hidden inside. She ate every onion in there, crunching away with her one-year-old teeth. My mother said it was no surprise, since I’d had a vegetarian pregnancy, they’d never developed a “taste” for meat. (I was shocked, because I’ve never developed a taste for raw onions, but that’s another issue entirely.)

Our daughters don’t know that I’m a vegetarian. Our oldest is so fixated on all things “mommy” that I have no doubt she’d reject meat on principle if she found out I don’t eat it. It’s not that I’d mind if she were a vegetarian, but I’m obsessed with the notion of raising self-assured independent women, and I want her to make her own choices for her own reasons, not mine.

Last night my husband made himself a chicken breast (he’s been home for a whole week now, so must be missing meat), and we managed to get one daughter to eat two bites of it, and the other to eat one bite of it. All in all, a success by our low standards. I suppose it's possible that whatever predisposition against meat I've always had is genetic, and my girls have it, too. But until they're old enough to announce that to me at the dinner table, in the same way I once did to my mother, I'll keep trying to introduce them to it.


  1. I'm fascinated by this post! I think it's very enlightened of you wanting your daughters to make their own decisions and trying to introduce them to all foods, including raw onions. You're so lucky your girls eat veggies and fruits so well. Any advice as my eldest nearly refuses every veggie or fruit (or any food) just for fun?

    I find your post interesting on another level as my brother is about to marry a vegetarian who is claiming to raise their children vegetarians and my brother, who is much like your husband in eating patterns, is a bit uncomfortable with it. I just murmur compromise, so it's nice to see someone who is making it work.
    Sorry, this comment got so long. Love the post!

  2. Hm, maybe trying to raise your kids vegetarian is a good way to turn them into meat eaters?

    I hear you on the kids who refuse all food. My youngest went through a phase like that. After months of below-weight check ups at the pediatrician's office, I started giving her Carnation Instant Breakfast every morning, and she finally started gaining again.

    Thanks for the nice comment!