I knew this day would come. The day when my seven-year-old, V, asked that daunting question. No, it wasn’t, “Is Santa real?” We went through that a few months ago when the practical elements of one man delivering presents all over the world didn’t make sense to my very practical child. No it wasn’t even, “Where do baby’s come from?” which was SHOCKING to me since I spent the better part of the past year pregnant. Not a one question about how the budding gymnast karate-chopping my groin got there. (I know I’m on borrowed time).
The question was, “Where does chicken come from?”
If I’m honest with myself, I knew this moment would come, I just didn’t think it would happen the night I cooked the most delectable whole chicken in the Dutch Oven. I had salted that bird and let her soak in the goodness that is onions and thyme all day. I knew my little empath’s synapses would eventually connect and she would be flooded with images of adorable little animals being eaten and absolutely freak the fuck out.
Again, I just didn’t think it would happen whilst my husband was cutting up chicken.
I’m not sure where she thought chicken came from. I mean, it’s in the name. It’s not like we tricked her. But, I can also see how it’s confusing when we also serve her chicken nuggets in dinosaur form. No wonder there’s a detachment between the food served and what we actually consume.
Anyway there were tears that continued at the table as she sniffled into her green beans and potatoes, horrified by her Hannibal Lector-esq parents. I also think she was overwhelmed by the decision she felt she had to make; to eat meat or not to eat meat? That, is the question.
After what must have been a terribly filling meal of starch and vegetables, we sat down to discuss vegetarianism further with our big feelings girl. We told her she didn’t have to make the decision all at once. If there were days she wanted to eat meat, that was fine. If she woke up and realized it wasn’t a meat day, we would make sure to have alternative sources of protein on hand. Then, we did a Mommy & Me Amazon Prime Now order of alternative proteins; Beyond Meat, Morning Star, etc, which cheered her up a ton. I don’t think she could conceptualize what her life would look like without meat. Having options on hand definitely calmed her down.
We also discussed eggs, apparently a big debate in the vegetarian community because of the fertilization process. She decided store-bought eggs were ok.
I think the hardest part for her was the realization that even if she stopped eating meat it didn’t mean others would. It didn’t stop the killing of animals and that broke her little heart. It gave us a good opportunity to talk about what we can control and what we can’t. Also, activism in general. You can advocate, lead by example, fight for change, but you can’t let the fact it won’t happen overnight break you. You can start by changing your corner of the world.
This parenting stuff is not easy. It’s not like my husband and I ran through a “What if our kid decides to become a vegetarian in the middle of setting the dinner table?” scenario. This wasn’t in the handbook they sent us home from the hospital with. Thankfully, in that moment, we were on the same page. The worst thing we could teach her is that she doesn’t get to make decisions over her body or that what she believes in doesn’t matter. Yes, vegetarianism the week of my root canal isn’t convenient, but what is life if not a series of curveballs? I’m excited to show her that while I might not share her exact beliefs, I will support her, tofurky and all.
Have a future little vegetarian on your hands? Here are some kid-friendly recipes to get you started.