“Where do babies come from?”
Ask any vegetarian parent and she will be happy to take that question in exchange for “Mom, can I have chicken?” Whine. “Katie’s mom lets her have chicken all the time.” More whining. “But it’s Thanksgiving. You’re supposed to have turkey.”
How do you tell a 3-year-old why it’s okay for her friends to eat fish sticks and chicken nuggets while she gets to chew on seemingly boring vegetarian alternatives?
As parents raising vegetarian kids, it’s our responsibility to show them the way while being sensitive to the choices of others. Raising kids to be vegetarians in a world where a majority of their peers are not is a challenge that needs to be tackled with knack and patience. The trick is to come up with creative, yet logical answers that your skeptical kids will accept, or at least, be less reluctant to hearing.
How you handle these situations depends on your child’s age. With very young children, it’s best to keep it short and simple.
My conversations with my 3 year old go something like this –
She: Can I eat fish sticks?
Me: No, sweetheart.
Me: Because we’re vegetarians.
She: You said we’re human b-ings.
Me: Yes, we are. We’re also vegetarians.
She: Clare eats fish sticks.
Me: She’s probably not a vegetarian. But, you are, just like mommy and daddy.
She: So can I eat eggs?
Me: Nope. We don’t eat eggs either. We eat all the yummy fruits, veges and rice and curry Mommy makes everyday.
She: But whhhy? I want to eat chicken.
Me: (Thanking the creators of Dinosaur Train and all the dinosaur books out there) You know how some of your favorite dinosaurs are herbivores or plant eaters? They’re big and strong and they don’t eat meat either. Because their mommies and daddies are vegetarians too. And like them, our family is vegetarian. We’re all plant eaters.
Most of the time, this works. She seems somewhat convinced and moves on to a dozen questions about dinosaurs. Every child is different, but it usually comes down to just stating the fact. You may have to repeat the conversation a few hundred times every week, but I still think that this is an effective way to satisfy your impossible-to-please pre-schooler.
With older kids, it’s not as simple.
You can’t simply impose vegetarianism on them without explaining your reasons for your choice. It will only cause them to rebel and maybe try meat just to defy you.
So, if your older child wants to know why he can’t have meat, first ask him why he wants to know. Listen to what he’s really saying. It may turn out that he is simply curious and isn’t really interested in eating non-vegetarian food. If he seems to have developed a liking for the idea or wants to experiment or simply doesn’t want to be treated differently among his peers for being vegetarian, you better have the answers ready.
1.Tell your child why you chose to be a vegetarian and why you would like him to be one too. Give your reasons. Make sure they’re easy to understand and factual, yet personal. For example:
- I just don’t see the point of ending animals’ lives so we can enjoy the taste of meat.
- We don’t really need to eat meat or fish to survive. We can get all the nutrition we need to lead healthy lives from plant sources.
- In fact, a vegetarian diet is considered a far safer and healthier choice. Vegetarians are far less susceptible to heart problems, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and other diseases.
- Vegetarians are also known to live longer.
- Meat contains far more pesticide residues than plant food.
- It takes far less energy to produce vegetarian food than to produce meat. There is less wastage and pollution with a vegetarian diet.
2. Be open to discussing vegetarianism with them and be ready to answer all their questions. Point them to websites, books or magazines on vegetarianism.
3. Reassure them that they are not ‘weird’ or ‘un-cool for choosing to be vegetarian. Give them examples of celebrities and people they admire who are vegetarians – Alicia Silverstone, Mahatma Gandhi, Tobey Maguire, Alec Baldwin, Sir Paul McCartney, Abraham Lincoln, Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, Shania Twain, Ashley Judd, Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields. Encourage them to read about their favorite celebrities, giving them a chance to see that vegetarians can be just as popular and successful as their non-vegetarian counterparts.
4. Keep the discussions alive. You can provide your kids the most attractive vegetarian alternatives on earth, but if they’re not convinced, they won’t care. Your kids may not be convinced with one conversation. Be available and open for discussions, and never judge their friends or peers for making different choices. Discourage your kids from doing the same.
Raising vegetarian kids in a predominantly non-vegetarian society is not easy. But it is possible if you’re up for it.
You may have to answer a zillion more questions than usual. But that’s a small price to pay when you’re raising vegetarians.