I’m a vegetarian, bordering on vegan, bordering on raw foodie enthusiast, but most definitely do not ever eat meat or fish, can’t handle eggs (but have to eat them for health reasons) and rarely eat or drink dairy. Not doing harm to animals is a huge part of not eating meat, but it’s also a health choice. I feel more alive and energetic as a vegetarian than I ever did consuming meat. I always hated fish and meat physically weighed me down. My body works like clockwork and I’m full of vitality. I know it’s a life choice that resonates with me, but it’s not something I ever force on anyone else.
My family is a mixed bag of nuts. We don’t buy meat to eat and cook at home except on a very rare occasion when my husband is craving it. By rare, I mean once every six months. If we eat out my husband and 16-year old daughter (Amber) usually order a meat dish, but they often prefer vegetarian. My 14-year old son (Cameron) has been a veggie since he was five. He gave it up because he didn’t want to harm animals, bless his heart. My five year old (Finn) has always been a fan of bacon and biltong, but he truly didn’t understand where it came from until we had a very real conversation about its origins.
The Innocent Mind Of A Child
I was faced with a situation over a month ago where I had to be brutally honest with Finn about where meat actually comes from. It’s clear that children can’t conceive of the act of killing animals, because where most kids are concerned, they have a natural inclination to love animals and would rather cuddle them than kill them. This is the beautiful innocence of children. Seeing things for what they truly are. It’s a difficult topic to breach with a child because you don’t want to traumatise them, but you also cannot lie.
In South Africa we have a divine take-away burger joint called RocoMamas and they do the most delicious vegan burgers. Amber loves their BBQ chicken wings and orders them every time we get a delivery from there. Like I said, I don’t force my beliefs on my kids, so she eats chicken or bacon every now and then because she enjoys it. Finn saw the chicken bones on her plate after she was finished and was completely horrified!
- Finn: Gross! Amber ate an animal! Those are bones from a real chicken!
- Me: You also eat animals.
- Finn: No, I don’t.
- Me: Yes, you do. You like bacon don’t you?
- Finn: What animal is bacon?
- Me: A pig.
- Finn: But a pig gives us bacon!
- Me: No, we take the bacon from the pig.
- Finn: No. The pig poops the bacon out it’s bum and we eat it.
- Me: No, the farmer kills the pig and makes bacon out of it.
- Finn: No, the farmer takes the bacon from the pigs tummy and he doesn’t kill it.
- Me: No, my boy. The pig has to die so that the farmer can make bacon from it.
- Finn: *sad face* *tears in his eyes*
He stared at me for a while holding back the tears, but he was completely silent as he processed it all. Our conversation highlighted a very clear difference between “giving” and “taking” showing that he had an idea of where meat came from, but he never understood exactly how. Thinking that the pig pooped out the bacon was honestly the most adorable thing I had heard all day, but it also clearly defined how magically innocent the mind of a child is. To think that there must be another way around it to get the bacon because he couldn’t comprehend actually inflicting harm on another being for his benefit.
As much as it hurt me to reveal such a harsh reality to my boy, it’s the truth and I cannot lie to him. Small humans grow up thinking that animals give their meat to us willingly, but we actually take it from them quite viciously, and obviously without their consent. I know that on the basis of survival, meat is consumed but it is also taken with gratitude and blessings for it is giving life to another. Think about the movie Avatar, and how when an animal is killed to be brought to the tribe to eat, a small ceremonial prayer is made for it’s life and the gift it has given these people in terms of their survival. This to me is the natural circle of life. But meat that has been mass produced on a production line of extreme proportions is unnatural and children should be given the opportunity to understand what they are buying into every time they sit down at the dinner table.
Little Humans Making Grown Up Decisions
It took some time for Finn to digest everything I had told him, and he still ate meat for a short while afterwards. But each time he picked up something that he knew wasn’t grown from a tree or a plant he would ask me “Is this an animal?” I was very honest about what and whom he was eating and before long he announced to his dad that he doesn’t eat animals anymore. And that’s that. He learned for himself and chose for himself as soon as he was equipped with all the information. No influence from anyone in any way.
His cousin, Travis, who is slightly younger than Finn, made the same decision for himself after visiting a butchery and seeing skinned cows, pigs and sheep cut up or hanging from hooks. He saw firsthand where his meat came from and was completely mortified. A long discussion ensued between him and his mom, but it didn’t take any further persuasion than that. He decided for himself at four years old that he wasn’t going to eat meat anymore, even though his family are all meat eaters.
There is a maturity in these two that is somewhat profound for such little humans. I think it comes from the space of learning, knowing and then acting on the information you have taken in, but doing it for yourself. It’s a massive lesson in personal responsibility and independence and it gives me great hope for the future of our planet. If these little guys can make such a conscious decision at such a young age, why can’t everyone else? It’s more difficult at our age because we are conditioned by society and by the lies we tell ourselves to help us get past the horror of the meat industry. But we all have the information at our disposal.
If you are reading this and you are a meat eater, please know that I don’t judge you. I used to eat meat too. But if you are a parent, I’m intrigued… have you had a very honest conversation with your kids about where meat comes from?