No More Bull: How Can You Raise Your Children As Vegetarians?

We asked Sam Mann, television presenter and journalist, and editor of Mumazine, what one of the biggest unexpected lifestyle challenges was for her when she became a Mum. First she thought it was probably working her fitness routine around having a small child, but then she realised it was something more challenging – and potentially contentious than that.

Going vegetarian yourself is hardly controversial – it’s good for your health and it’s good for the environment, even if you will eat a lot more wild mushroom risotto than you ever thought possible when you start trying to go out for dinner in mainstream restaurants and foodie pubs in England. But what about your children?

Sam Mann had this dilemma when she became a vegetarian recently.

A photo by Michael Fertig.

No More Bull

I truly believe that things happen for a reason, and I am 100% certain that my other half and I stumbled across a gem of a farmhouse in Bergerac as a last-minute getaway, so we’d meet the wonderful proprietor Ariane – a fifty something ball of energy who was also a committed vegan.

We got to know Arianne and the fascinating story behind why she had so many animals (3 cows, 8 horses, 7 cats, 2 dogs, 2 ponies, 1 donkey, 2 rabbits… and counting!) many rescued from local farms just before slaughter. As she shared her fascinating stories of why she had become a vegan many moons ago, her words were having a profound effect on Luke and I.

Taking The Blinkers Off

Coincidently we had both been toying with ‘taking the blinkers off’ and looking into where the meat we eat comes from. I’d even promise myself that I wouldn’t just ‘skip’ what looked like a harrowing video next time it came up on my Facebook feed. Our short stay had done the trick. We headed home as veggies determined to find out more.

The first thing I did was watch a short, but certainly not sweet, video on Youtube I’d heard about over the years entitled ‘Meet Your Meat’.

WARNING! It’s not for the faint hearted, but will certainly help anyone teetering on the edge of vegetarianism to go whole hog, so to speak. [Watch it here]

Next up we watched Cowspiracy on Netflix – a documentary that made me realise that the environmental impact of rearing livestock for meat eating is possibly even more shocking than the inhumane treatment of the animals – and that’s saying something.

But What To Tell The Children?

A bit more digging and that was it. We were veggie for life. Job done. Then came the dilemma: what about my 6-year-old daughter? Her health is more important than my own.

Should I make the decision for her? Before I’d started looking into how our meat is produced I had thought I’d just allow her to make up her own mind as she saw me ditch the meat. But once I’d found out more I realised there was a big moral issue here.

She can’t watch any of the harrowing videos I’ve watched, and I’m sure even a very simple description would be too much for her. But maybe she has a right to know what’s happened to animals that end up on her plate. In France, Ariane told us a story about her own daughter who rang in her in tears after she’d watched a documentary about factory farming. She’d sobbed down the phone: “Mum, how can you not have told told me what was happening to all those animals?”

And then there’s the issue of health.

Up until this point she has devoured ham sandwiches, roast dinners and BBQ spare ribs. But a lot of the meat she loves is reared in horrific factory-like conditions, genetically modified beyond recognition and pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. Can I really allow her to continue to eat it?

I decided it was my decision to wean her off meat and that she would thank me for it when she was older.

The web is full of information on how to bring up a child on a vegetarian or vegan diet, as well as wonderful recipes to make sure they get everything they need. But there isn’t a fat lot of guidance on converting a child who has eaten meat for their whole life.

As I did more research, it seemed like  many parents had the same dilemma when it came to telling their children.

Top Tips For Telling Children About Vegetarianism

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

– Keep it simple – children don’t have the capacity to understand as much as adults. Take time to work out the information you would like to share and work out how to do it simply.

– Tell the truth – lying or trying to conceal the truth will only teach you child that it’s OK to withhold the truth. Just find age appropriate language and imagery to convey the message.

– Go easy on the gruesome – you don’t want your child to have nightmares or feel guilty about having eaten meat.

– Be prepared to answer questions – you can’t expect to tell your child about where meat comes from and that’ll be that. Little ones have curious minds, so be prepared for lots of questions.

– Hold your hands up – If you don’t know the answer to their question, tell them you don’t know and go and find out.

What about you?

But I’d really like to hear what other parents think. This is an emotive and complex issue. What are your thoughts on children and vegetarianism?

Sam Mann is a presenter and journalist, and is the editor of Mumazine.

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