Talking to your kids about being Vegetarian

By P.R. Ganapathy 

Like lots of Indians, I was brought up vegetarian by my vegetarian parents. When I reached adulthood, I stayed vegetarian, and even experimented for a few years with its more extreme version – becoming vegan. My wife is vegetarian too, so our 5-year-old son doesn't have much of a choice in the matter. At this time. Or so we think.

The first big dilemma we faced is whether we should bring him up vegetarian or not – at least till the age of 18, at which point he's free to make his own choices. Several friends (most of them non-vegetarian) feel we're being unfair; denying him choices and biasing him so that he's more likely to stay vegetarian at 18 than turn non-veg. If fact, for this same reason, some of our vegetarian friends allow their kids to eat the occasional Chicken Nugget.

The second, more frequently faced dilemma, is how to answer his innocent question about why he can't also get a plate of Chicken Nuggets when we're eating with friends at a restaurant. We grope for an answer that his 5-year old mind can grasp, and yet one that does not cause him to judge his meat-eating friends harshly.

There were several approaches available to us, ranging from diktat ("This is the way it is") to empathy ("We like animals and don't like to kill and eat them"). Explanations based on distant religious diktats ("We don't eat meat because we're Hindus") were unlikely to cut much ice, given that we're not at all religious in the first place. The health benefits are perhaps too complex for a 5-year-old to grasp.

We chose the empathy argument, and thus far, it has worked well. He showed a natural affinity for animals in general, and farm animals in particular. The occasional trip to Ardenwood Farm, Happy Hollow Park or Lemos Farm in Half Moon Bay to gaze at the benign goats or chicken reinforced that affection. It also increased his recognition that these animals were sentient beings with feelings and emotions and therefore, killing them was wrong.

If fact, Vegan society websites recommend this sort of approach, but their tone strikes me as being too strident, too righteous. I fear that when he views his and his friends' actions through this lens, he'll end up judging himself "good" and his friends "bad". That's not the sort of judgmental attitude I'd like him to develop. I try to keep emphasizing that his friends are free to make their own decisions, but I dread the day when he asks a friend "How can you kill and eat an animal?"

Suggestions, anyone?

9 thoughts on “Talking to your kids about being Vegetarian

  1. Geeta Padmanabhan

    I don’t understand. Why should you dread the day? It’s the friend’s parents who should live in dread!

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  2. Indoczar

    I am not sure why you have assumed an apologetic tone about being a vegetarian. And am not sure where the Hindu religion preaches vegetarianism.

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  3. Shantanu

    Being a non-vegetarian, I didn’t have to deal with this with my child. However, we still run into issues. Remember that non-vegetarians, esp. the Indian variety are the conservative kind who will only eat chicken or goat, so you do run into situations and questions similar to yours.

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  4. PR Ganapathy

    I didn’t mean to be apologetic about being vegetarian (I’m not); it’s that I didn’t want my son to be self-righteous about being vegetarian. This is a personal choice I’ve made.

    The bit about “Hindus not eating meat” was an error.

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  5. Satya

    Interesting post and my take may sound a bit extreme.

    When the debate between vegetarian and non-vegetarian comes up, first question that hits me is – “Who is a non-vegetarian?”

    How can you say that only animals have life? What about the plants from where you get rice? What about the trees from where you pluck fruits? Do not they have life as well? The only difference is they can not make sounds like animals. So even if some eats only “vegetarian” food, I consider them to be non-vegetarian.

    So shall someone stop eating anything? I am sure no one will say “Yes”.

    Even in extreme cases (I have seen extreme cases in my childhood when a couple of Jain monks in our village have covered their mouths and noses so that they do not inhale or take up insects – they belonged to Shwetambar sects). But they also took food. So their argument of not killing insects or minuscule lively particles is fundamentally flawed.

    I think it is best to leave that to the individuals. All parents can do is to show the lexical differences between a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian.

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  6. Harshit

    I am a vegetarian and also support a pro-vegan ideology. The interesting thing that I found in your post was the last line

    I dread the day when he asks a friend “How can you kill and eat an animal?”

    What if, he eats meat, and some day, someone asks him ,”How can you kill and eat an animal?” . Don’t you think it’s a similar situation? I think the best bet is to make him understand and maybe he’ll find his way himself.

    I am not against non-vegetarians , but this reason for eating non-veg food does not seem justified enough.

    Also, as a side note, people should once read http://www.vegan.org/about_veganism/animals.html

    It makes for a good read, and might make you think if what you are doing is right or not.

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  7. Swati Prasad Siddharth

    Hi,

    First I am an eggitarian. Second, I am not a parent. Yet, as I always say, I have been a child. I grew up with parents who encouraged me to try everything at least once. I always got to hear arguments why people ate or did not eat meat -not tasty, religious belief, medical, animal rights, whatever … Any time I pleased, I could eat what I want. except that no non-vegetarian food was cooked at home. And then I made my choices. I have grown up being vegetarian with an inordinate liking for eggs. The thing is I made my choice – no one forced it on me. If questions are asked, I have always answered them myself. I have asked my questions and got my answers from my peers.There is nothing to worry about if you let your children make informed choices. The worst that can happen is they make mistakes. They will learn. And be better people at the end of it.

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  8. darasy

    i work at a restaurant. and indians come into my store and always make a fuss about water no ice so i googled it and found your site. please email me and tell me why? it seems theres more to it than i think. like bad teeth or something. ok thanks

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