The other day, as it happens often, I got into a discussion about raising kids plant-eaters VS raising them meat-eaters. And even if I know I’m getting myself in a big knot here, I want to write about it.
First of all, I think we should all recognize that we, me and you, are SO privileged to even have a conversation about whether or not to feed our kids meat. Please, keep that in mind as you read this article.
I also think labels are wrong. Labels (in this case words like vegan or vegetarian or carnivore) categorize us and put us in boxes. But I admit that labels are effective to describe people’s preferences, so in this post I’ll talk about three labels which put us in three boxes: carnivores, herbivores, and responsible eaters. I call it the Mickey Mouse eating graph (it’s proportionally wrong and somewhat utppistic, I know, but isn’t it cute?).
Carnivore mom VS Herbivore mom
You, carnivore mom, think that animals (including us humans) eating other animals is the most natural way of life. You, herbivore mom, think that animals (including us humans) eating other animals is cruel and unfair to the animal world.
You, carnivore mom, think that you need to give your children meat for them to be healthy, and like to point that out. You, herbivore mom, think that meat is bad for your health: also, the doctor told you your herbivore kids are healthier than most children their age, and you like to point that out.
You, carnivore mom, desperately try to get the message through that not all meat eaters contribute to the suffering of animals: there’s a way to eat meat responsibly, and that’s what you want to teach your kids. You, herbivore mom, desperately try to convince everybody that eating meat is unethical: if children knew what animals go through to become food, they’d never want to contribute to it.
You, carnivore mom, force meat on your children because that’s what you eat, too: you’re imposing your point of view on them. You, herbivore mom, force your children not to eat meat because that’s how you eat, too: you’re imposing your point of view on them.
So who’s right?
I think, neither one. I think “who’s right” is the wrong question. I think the conversation shouldn’t be about eating or not eating meat, that’s a very personal choice and one that should be respected no matter what.
I think we should start bringing the sustainability of our planet into the conversation. I think whether you decide to eat meat or not, the real conversation should be deciding to eat more responsibly.
In our family, we’ve always been carnivores, I think it’s very natural to kill and eat animals, and we’re raising our kids with meat. But we recently all switched to what we think is a more responsible, environmentally-friendly eating style.
What is a responsible eating style?
When I started my eco-friendly journey a couple of years ago, I never thought I would one day be cutting down my meat consumption for the sake of the planet. But the more I research, the more I realize that eating responsibly—in our society and the part of world we live in—means to prefer a more plant-based diet.
That doesn’t mean you need to avoid meat (unless you believe that all meat is bad for your health, which I don’t, so I won’t get into that today).
If you want to eat meat, I think that eating responsibly means to go back to seeing meat as a luxury, as it was when humans had to hunt for it in order to eat it.
It means to avoid meat coming from intensive farming, because intensive farming is one of the most carbon-intensive and environmentally damaging supply chains; on top of that, there’s nothing NATURAL about the way we’re treating and killing our animals in order to eat them (and I’d invite you to watch a couple of intensive farming videos on YouTube, if you haven’t yet).
It means to buy and eat meat that you know where it comes from, and avoid it if you don’t (even when eating in restaurants).
Eating responsibly also means a lot of other things, independently from whether you eat meat or not. It means to prefer seasonal and local fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, so we stop flying our foods from the other part of the world thus adding to our carbon footprint* (if you’re not familiar with the concept of carbon footprint, read the asterisk at the end of the post). It even means to learn to cook more from fresh ingredients, so to avoid buying our food in plastic at the supermarket. And so on.
Maybe, at the end of the day, eating responsibly simply means to go back to the way our ancestors used to eat (which for me is quite curious, because that’s exactly what I liked about the concept of the paleo diet that I followed for years).
“But my children need meat!”
The conversation gets heated when children are in the picture.
I understand who says a balance diet includes meat and that children need a balance diet to be healthy; but even though I do eat meat, I know from extensive research that you can get the same balance of protein/fat/carbs from a diet that doesn’t include meat.
And in today’s world, where a huge variety of foods is available to us (even locally), we really don’t need to eat meat if we don’t want to.
Health is a delicate matter, as not every organism works the same, and not every metabolism does well with this or that diet, but I invite you to research extensively and experimenting on your self (for example, you could change diet for a few months and monitor your body with blood tests) before preaching that humans need meat to be healthy.
“Children would never choose to eat dead animals!”
I also understand who says that children are compassionate beings through and through, and wouldn’t eat meat if they knew where it comes from.
I have an example of this at home. Oliver (almost 4) is a self-taught herbivore and we respect it.
Since our last visit to a fully self-sustaining farm, where Oliver truly understood where meat comes from, he decided he doesn’t like to eat anything that “comes from a pig, a cow, or the water”, and he always asks before eating something he doesn’t recognize. Phase or not, we choose to respect his choice, and after a couple of months of us trying to understand the reasons behind it, one day he simply said, “I don’t like when people kill animals”.
So yes, I’m all for respecting Oliver’s wish and empathy towards animals, but I also like to keep in mind that it comes from a position of privilege: I think that any child would want to eat an animal that was killed in front of their eyes, if they were starving to death. It’s always a matter of perspective.
Let’s change the conversation, parents!
So what does a parent like me and you do?
We change the conversation, even in our heads. In my opinion, the conversation shouldn’t be whether to feed meat to our children or not.
The conversation should be how to teach our kids to eat in the most responsible way for the sustainability of our planet. We have the responsibility to raise a generation of people who understand the threats we’re (causing) to our planet and learn how to do their part to make sure there’s still a planet for their children and grandchildren.
How can we make the “meat/no meat” conversation more respectful?
If you’ve ever gotten into the eating lifestyle conversation with somebody that eats differently from you, especially parents, you know how difficult it is. I have two friends who love each other to bits, but can’t talk about food preferences because they struggle getting past their carnivore mom VS herbivore mom differences.
So how can we make the conversation healthier and more respectful?
Focus on informing yourself. Making informed decisions is very time consuming, but it’s the very basis of responsible living and parenting. We’re lucky enough to live in a world where information is widely available, let’s make good use of it. Don’t follow the mass, make up your own mind.
Focus on avoiding labels. Labels put people in boxes, they start the conversation of the egos, not the minds. Something as simple as changing “Are you vegan?” to “Do you eat meat?” sets the tone for a healthier conversation.
Focus on banning extremes and generalizations. Not all herbivores and carnivores make informed decisions, but they all deserve the benefit of the doubt. Also, I find extremes very unhealthy: I love the Montessori philosophy, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything Maria Montessori ever wrote. In the same way, I want to eat responsibly, but I’ll buy a banana that comes from Costa Rica or have a chicken wrap at my favorite organic restaurant, if I want to.
Focus on responsible eating. Remember the Mickey Mouse graph from the beginning? You can clearly see that both herbivores and carnivores can be responsible (or not responsible) eaters, so focus on spreading the word about responsibile eating, instead. I think we can all agree that keeping our planet alive should be a common (and primary) goal of all humans.
Last but not least. Focus on people’s journey. Put your ego and judgement aside and be curious about how people came to make their decisions, what reasons have moved them, and talk about your own journey. It works for any conversation about any topic.
* What is my carbon footprint?
Thanks to my sister for writing down the following explanation. If you want to leanr more about the climate change in an easy and fun way, follow her at @unlearnthemyth.
In a nutshell, my carbon footprint is the amount of carbon I produce directly and indirectly. In today’s society, it’s impossible to live without emitting carbon dioxide (and other harmful greenhouse gases). Some of them are a direct consequence of our actions: when driving our car, the combustion that allows it to move produces carbon dioxide. Other emissions are only indirectly connected to what we do: most time of the year the bananas we buy have to be shipped over from South America. The container ships and trucks emit carbon, and a portion of that emission can be indirectly linked to me buying a banana. The sum of both direct and indirect carbon emissions makes up my carbon footprint.
This photo is from an AMAZING kid book, How the World Works, which I think every household should have. This is an affiliate link: if you follow this link when buying the book, I’ll get a small commission :-)