Friday, June 13, 2008

What am I saying about food?

I have been thinking for some time now about what I am saying to my children about food. What messages, what values, what nourishment am I giving them through food?

I have no answers now, am just continually reflecting.

A person on one of my online parenting discussion boards posted a question about how she should explain to her animal-loving daughter that the meats they eat were once live animals.

There was a good discussion, on many different levels. On one of those levels, I said this:

I think this can be a tough one, even for those of us who are vegetarian families.

I was raised vegetarian, and have chosen to remain vegetarian into adulthood. I value this and hope to pass it on to my children. My wife was raised eating meat, but her feeling is that our kids should not eat meat until they can understand what it means and make a decision for themselves.

So we're a vegetarian household.

Nonetheless, here are a couple examples of tricky situations we have been in:

1. Our younger dog was hit by a car and killed on Valentines day after his leash failed and broke loose from his harness. We explained to my son that his dog was dead. It was hard, but we tried to explain what that meant. Fast forward a month or so, and we are at the store, and we're passing the meat section and my son asks about it. I was rushing through the store with two toddlers, trying to get my shopping done in a hurry, and without thinking, I told my son: "We don't eat that. Those are dead animals." Then, I caught myself rushing through that first conversation about meat without being present for my son, but it was too late. He looked at me with a look of complete confusion and then asked if our dog was there. OMG!!!!!! It was heartbreaking.

2. My son loves this Signing Time video with animal signs. One of the signs is for "turkey." I don't recall if he's ever seen a turkey live before, but he knows what they are: that they are animals, a type of bird. We've talked about turkeys, made turkey sounds, pretended we were walking around being turkeys, signed "turkey" as we've looked at video images of turkeys walking around and eating on his Signing Time video. My wife's sister was babysitting my son during my baby girl's therapy appointment a week or two ago. When we returned to pick up my son, my sister-in-law (his babysitter) had my son tell us what he did while we were gone. He told us they walked to the store. Sister-in-law said, and "what did we get at the store?" and my son replied, "A turkey!" I found myself taken off-guard. I didn't want my son to be confused, nor is this something I want my son to think about with no thought, if that makes sense, so I said, "M, was that turkey alive or dead?" M. said, "dead." Meanwhile, there was SIL, cooking up the turkey for her husband and kids for dinner in front of us all. It's not like G.'s family isn't cooking up meats around us all the time, but I found that particular instance stirred some sadness inside me about those experiences.

It's not that I don't want my kids to get real information. It's just that (1) the grocery store incident reminded me of the importance of the information being age appropriate, especially given how disconnected we are from the raising of our food, (2) I want my kids to understand death first, and I know they are confused about it still, and (3) I am learning that these first conversations can come naturally but I feel strongly that they should come with some sensitivity, especially for vegetarian kids.

Even having been raised vegetarian and raising my children as vegetarians, I am still trying to figure this one out.

What am I saying about food? What am I saying, to my wife, to my children, to myself?

I watched an interesting video on "watch instantly" Netflix tonight. It was a documentary on zen buddhism and cooking called "How to Cook Your Life" I wouldn't recommend watching only part of it. Like a meal, it had many flavors. I found it thought-provoking, and would love for any of you to watch it (if you haven't seen it), and share your thoughts on any level.

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