My Girl: Mommy, what’s ham?
Me: Um, it’s meat.
My Girl: Where does it come from?
Me: It comes from a pig.
My Girl: Ew! I would never eat a pig! I love pigs!
This is a snippet of a conversation my daughter started with me at the grocery store the other day. Long before she was born, my husband and I made the decision to become ethical vegans. When I became pregnant, we decided that we would raise our child to be at least a vegetarian. To us it was a no brainer. We would raise her with our values and when she was old enough, she could decide for herself if she wanted to stay vegetarian, become vegan or *gasp* become a carnivore.
What we didn’t plan on was how we would teach her about our values in this regard. When she was a baby, and throughout the toddler years, it was easy. She ate what we gave her (for the most part). But how do you help a curious 4-year old make the connection between the cute and fuzzy animals in her story books and the food on her grandparents’ and schoolmates’ plates without freaking her the eff out? How do you make her understand that you’re not punishing her by not buying her the Lunchables that her friends all have? This post is not meant to be a pro-vegan rant. It’s more a question of how to instill your values into your child when there is so much competition from other sources. My girl’s mind is a vacuum waiting to be filled and either we can fill it or others will.
Our own journey into veganism started when we rescued the most amazing dog on earth, otherwise known as Maggie. Then we adopted her brother, Remy. Both of these animals had been abandoned and abused in their former lives, left to fend for themselves. That never stopped them from loving us with every fiber of their being. If they could do that for us, what was the least we could do for them?
That simple question led us to explore other aspects of animal cruelty and the things we humans do to animals in order to feed ourselves. My husband pursued his Masters in Humane Education and started bringing home everything he was learning in class. We were both shocked and disturbed by how naïve we were and how little we knew about the food we eat. I’m by no means an expert but I saw enough to make the choice for me and my family. There was no way we could continue to eat animals.
Then along came my girl, all 2lbs 5oz of her. We started early teaching her about kindness. Her furry brother and sister were there to greet her on the day we brought her home from the hospital. She has never known a home without pets. And by pets, I mean the kind that are all up in your face. On laps, on heads, at your feet, snuggling, licking, sniffing. She had her moments when those big dogs were a little scary, but thankfully that was a phase. She now tells us how much she loves Remy, the sole survivor. She even says she loves our cat, and only a saint would love that cat. Any time we have the chance to see other animals at fairs, farms or even on TV, we use the opportunity to point out that these animals are our friends and any endearing qualities they might possess. (“Did you know that pigs are very smart? And goats too! They love to escape their pens! What rascals!”) I tell her to look in their eyes to see how beautiful they are.
As part of that conversation we had at the grocery store about pigs, my girl brought up the movie Babe, which she had recently seen. I told her that the actor who played Farmer Hoggett stopped eating animals after working on that movie. After getting over the shock that he ate animals in the first place, she asked why he stopped. I told him it was because when he worked with Babe the pig and the other animals, he saw how beautiful and intelligent they were and they became his friends. She quickly piped up with “And we don’t eat our friends!” So she is listening. I guess I’ll keep talking.