Should my kids eat meat or not? As more people choose not to eat meat for moral and environmental reasons, more parents are deciding to rear their children as vegetarians. We hear from two ‘veggie’ mums — one didn’t feed her young children meat and another who decided the choice was theirs
MY CHILDREN were born into a long term vegetarian household. It wasn’t a conscious decision — having meat in the fridge would have been like a non-smoker having cigarettes in the house. We just didn’t. They had eggs and dairy, but that was it. Then they started going to children’s birthday parties, where they discovered a mythical substance being served.
Apparently my son, aged about five, asked at one, “Is that REAL chicken?” and without waiting for confirmation, got stuck in. He quickly figured out the difference between Quorn and actual dead bird. I would get texts from well meaning mummies hosting birthday parties apologising that my vegetarian kid had eaten more chicken than Fantastic Mr Fox. Yet I was still ticking the vegetarian box on school forms asking about their dietary requirements.
My response to this sudden and intense interest in eating the dead would be to take the kids to petting farms so that they could see chickens peacefully pottering around and cuddle up to lambs and baby cows and piggies. I would say things like, “Animals are our friends,” in the hope that they would not want to eat their friends. Turns out they would. With ketchup. This was despite having, over the years, loads of guinea pigs, hamsters, cats and dogs at home, and access to a field of horses.
Today my kids are 12 and almost 15. The older one, whose daily life involves lots of contact with dogs and horses, mostly eats vegetarian and vegan, although she is not so fussy when away from home – I have seen her chomping into meat grilled over the campfire, or fish caught by our neighbour.
The younger one, since discovering chicken, says his favourite place in the world is KFC. While the older one eats vegetarian by choice, the younger one doesn’t regard it as food unless it has been slaughtered, processed and deep fried. He does eat lots of vegan dinners, but only because I know how to disguise them as spicy and creamy, or rich and pastry-covered. If he hears the ‘v’ word, he won’t even try it.
Dinner time can be complicated. Vegan, vegetarian, junk food addicted carnivore, carnivorous dogs, and a lodger who eats more meat than the Rottweiler. Over the years, despite my own diet going totally plant-based, I have found myself boiling liver for the dogs, roasting bits of chicken for the son, and scrambling eggs for the daughter, while inhaling the smell of kilos of cheap meat being cooked by the lodger, who we all adore, and don’t want to alienate with our lentils and our almond butter.
The trick is to not care. My son has very little to rebel against, other than almond milk and earnest exhortations to eat more spinach. Hence he legs it to KFC at every available opportunity. He doesn’t give a monkey’s about animal welfare — yet. Short of locking him in a battery farm overnight, there is little I can do. So I don’t do anything, other than bung him a plate of (free range) chicken and say ‘bon appetit’. He’s not the kind of kid you can argue with, so I don’t bother.
I am confident that as my children mature, they will stop associating plant based food with their tofu-chomping, coconut-milk drinking mother, and see the bigger picture. But if they don’t, I really don’t care very much. I’ll have planted the seed of eating well, and shown them how to cook, but from young adulthood onwards, it’s up to them to manage their own health, well being and karma. My work here is almost done.
– SUZANNE HARRINGTON
IF THE typical query meat eaters have for vegetarians is anything to go by, then our secret service surely have kilos of rashers on their expenses. No rendition technique or extreme interrogation could yield results like the smell of bacon frying judging by the anguish on a carnivore’s face as they try to comprehend life without crispy rashers: “you’re vegetarian — but do you eat rashers? Don’t you miss bacon? I bet you get up in the middle of the night for a rasher sandwich.”
Well if you’ve given up meat to impress a new heartthrob or to annoy your parents then I can see how temptation lurks at every deli or cafe. But if, like me, you are vegetarian because you don’t like meat then it’s not exactly a struggle. The trickiest part for me has been the ‘secrecy’. You see, I have three children aged three, six and nine and they don’t know that I’m vegetarian and have been for 20 years. We do eat most of our meals together at the table but somehow they haven’t realised — and that’s just the way I want it. It started out as avoiding giving a child with the appetite of a sparrow another way of dodging calories and now I don’t even know why I don’t tell them other than I don’t want it to be a big deal. It’s hardly any trouble to cook meat for a stir fry separately and just add it into the plates; a sandwich could conceal anything and curries or stews can be made in two pots.
My iron levels are fairly consistently fine but I happily eat sprouted quinoa salad and consider beetroot a treat. And I imagine those might be a bit of a hard sell for a toddler so I just decided my children would be given meat or fish at least once every day. My husband eats meat so it’s easier to cook bigger meat dishes such as stuffed pork steak or baked ham for more than one person so we’re all happy.
I’ve been asked if I keep special vegetarian pots or cutlery — ones that have never been contaminated by contact with steak — but that’s ridiculous if you maintain basic hygiene levels such as doing the washing-up properly.
As I gave up meat because I don’t actually like it I don’t really buy a lot of those tofu-rashers but I do keep the odd packet of vege-burgers in the freezer for when I’m in a hurry. Dee’s Wholefoods — from Cork, Linda McCartney and Quorn are all ready-made options for days when you just can’t be grating courgettes or roasting peppers. And the vegetarian mince is almost indistinguishable from steak mince. It’s not just for people languishing sadly in a vegetarian world and wishing they could eat meat — it’s really handy to give a cottage pie or bolognaise the same volume and consistency as a meat one. In fact there was one ‘labelling issue’ in my fridge one day and there is a strong possibility I ended up taking the meat bolognaise instead of the veg one. It wasn’t tastier or better and I didn’t have more energy afterwards so there’s no ‘reconversion’ to meat here.
Honestly? It often seems like vegetarianism is a bigger issue for meat-eaters than for me. We are lucky to live in a world country awash with fresh, frozen and vacuum-packed food so it’s rarely difficult to find an often superb vegetarian option in a restaurant. And those ‘would you eat meat if you were starving on a desert island surrounded by nothing but pork chops?’ questions are daft.
I’d say I’d be a cannibal after around two-and-a-half days. Actually I wouldn’t even need extreme conditions like that — just tell my kids my secret and see!
- CAROLINE DELANEY
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved