”What’s for dinner,” asks my 6-year old daughter Camila. “Pork chops” I answer. “What animal do they came from?”. Surely she knows, I’m not the greatest fan of pork but Camila and I both love pork ribs and bacon. “Pig,” I say. The tears start to come out. “We can’t have pig, they are nice animals”. “But they are ugly,” I respond, my oldest daughter, Michaela, has already forbidden us from eating any “cute” animals: lamb, duck, venison have all disappeared from our menus. “Pigs are cute!” she screams. “This was a very ugly pig,” I promise, somewhat amused, I’ve gone through this before. “No, all pigs are cute!,” she yells, tears coming into her eyes. She calms down a bit, though, there may be a compromise. “How did the pig die?” I could lie, I could tell her it was very old or ill and we are honoring him by eating him. But that’s bullshit. I try not to lie to my children (though the Tooth Fairy did visit Camila’s pillow last night) and I don’t want them to think that it’s safe to eat animals that have not been killed for that purpose. So I tell her the truth. She bursts into tears. “You can’t kill animals! It’s wrong, it’s just wrong to kill animals! They are like us!”. I’m not surprised by the outburst. I’ve gone through the same thing before, with Mika. She’s nine, now, and pretty much an omnivore (save for the “cute animal” thing), but she’s tried to be a vegetarian before. I accommodated. It didn’t last.
I think that children are natural vegetarians. Kids love animals, even ugly animals (Mika just checked out a coffee table book from the library on chickens). They don’t want to eat them. I’m pretty sure that if I took meat away from their menu, they wouldn’t notice and even Mika wouldn’t ask for it. The problem, however, is that they won’t eat vegetables. They’ll have broccoli, and carrots and peas – they just love snap peas. But they’ve said goodbye to green beans, and they pretty much never touch other veggies. I could force the issue, I’m sure, but I don’t like veggies myself and my parents insistence that I eat them turn me off on them for decades. I could, theoretically, raise them on pasta, beans and cheese dishes, those “kid friendly foods” other parents resort to (and please, don’t think I’m judging). But I won’t. When I was growing up my mother resembled a short order cook, most days making at least one custom dish for one of her kids. Sometimes we’d all eat something different. I swore I’d never do that. One dinner for all, if someone doesn’t like it, they’re on their own. It’s worked well so far.
I understand my children’s feelings about not killing animals. If I liked vegetables, I’d probably be a vegetarian myself. There is something very distasteful, even to my mind, about raising other creatures for food. And don’t get me started on factory farming! And the how harmful cows are to the environment! If you think about it at all, really, eating meat (or at least beef) is wrong. But I don’t like veggies enough to subsist on them and I don’t want a carbohydrates-only diet. So I compromise, no lamb (giving up venison, duck, rabbit or other such animals is less of an issue). They are cute. It would hurt Mika’s feelings. But I won’t give up beef, pork or chicken. I tell myself they are stupid animals (though I’m not that sure about pigs), I try not to think about it.
So tonight we are having beef. It’s ginger beef, a Canadian recipe. I’ll make it non-spicy so the kids can eat it. If they don’t want it, there will be rice and salad. Or they can forage in the fridge, I saw celery, cucumber and baby carrots there, frozen bean & cheese burritos in the freezer. They’ll make do.