Teaching Kindness

8 comments

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?

Best. Dog. Ever. Photo credit K. Stevenson
Best. Dog. Ever.
Photo credit K. Stevenson

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.

Kisses and Giggles Photo credit C. Stevenson
Kisses and Giggles
Photo credit C. Stevenson

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.

Love that pig. Photo credit
Love that pig.
Photo credit

8 comments on “Teaching Kindness”

  1. I love this post – we are vegetarians and raising our son the same – he’s too young now to really get it, but I too have wondered exactly how to make the connection. Thanks for sharing what has been working for you!

  2. I think my kid believes that meat “comes from” animals in the same way that milk comes from cows or eggs come from chickens. She doesn’t get that it’s the flesh of that actual animal. It will be interesting to see what she thinks when we get to that point. I was vegan for a year, when I was a student, until I gave it up when I admitted to myself that my reasons for doing it were unclear. Someone pointed out to me that I still wore leather, fed my cats food made from animals, etc. And then there is the whole shopping at big box stores thing — if we’re not exploiting animals, we’re exploiting underprivileged people in third world countries who make our clothes and other products. Anyway, these days I try to buy cage-free, free-range, local, etc., although it is not always possible or practical. Some days it really bothers me, but honestly, most days, it doesn’t. Maybe it should though. On the other end of the spectrum, I have a friend who lives in a community where people raise their own cows and chickens for food. He had a picture of his little kids, both under 10 at the time, I believe, cuddling a baby calf with the comment about how this particular calf was soon to be dinner. At first I was horrified, but he pointed out to me that his kids have known pretty much from the time they were old enough to understand that animals are raised for food, and that cuddly calf in the picture is going to be dinner someday and that is just the way of the world. It doesn’t freak them out because they understand and accept it as normal. So I guess it all comes down to your values, like you say in your post, and what you want to instill in your kids.

    1. You always have such thoughtful comments Melanie. I love that! It was really hard in the beginning to be clear on why we were doing it too. But we stuck with the motto “Do the most good and the least harm.” I don’t beat myself up about my vegan shortcomings or lapses to vegetarianism. I try my best. And I definitely don’t pretend to be perfect or judge others. There’s a group of people who consider themselves to be Vegan-ish because there is just no way to be 100% perfect and it makes a lot of sense to me (http://www.carpevegan.com/. And you nailed it when you said, it comes down to values-whatever values-and what you want for your kids. Every family, every kid, is different.

  3. As a vegan myself and someone who really values compassion and kindness, I love this post! Lillian eats meat because my husband does and does not get the connection between the chicken she’s eating and the chicken’s she loves to see in grandpas backyard. When she does understand and asks me about why I don’t eat meat I’ll tell her and let her decide what she wants to do. Thanks for this!

    1. Thanks Michelle. I wasn’t rasied a vegan or even vegetarian so I’m learning as I go with this too! It definitely keeps things interesting!

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