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Teaching Choice As A Vegetarian Parent

Feb 16, 2017

The idea was to teach him how to make good choices and not tell him what to do. The impulse was a good one. As a parent, you have an opportunity to influence your kid’s character. You can help shape the person they will become, or you hope you can — you can’t control their lives. I like to work in the realm of the possible. I closed my eyes and told myself that he was ready for this.

He was ready. I was not.

My wife and I came to vegetarianism from different places. She grew up eating meat and changed her diet for health and environmental reasons. I have been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember. Most people assume that my parents were vegetarian as well. Makes sense — vegetarians don’t just spontaneously appear without context, right? But I did. Should I be surprised that my eight-year old seems to have chosen a path so different from my own?

We want to share [vegetarianism] with our kids, but it is important that they too come to it from their own place.

Growing up, I was that obstinate kid who loved animals so much that he refused to eat them. These days, we value vegetarianism, for reasons that overlap much more. We want to share that commitment with our kids, but it is important that they too come to it from their own place.

“The kids are going to eat meat at some point in their life,” my wife and I had long agreed. “It’s going to happen.”

I call it an experiment. In reality, I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I wanted to believe that my own feeling — that all life is sacred — would be passed to my kids through osmosis, example or some combination of the two. I told my son that we are a vegetarian family, which means we do not serve certain kinds of food in our home. That doesn’t mean that he must choose to eat those same foods outside of our home. Someday, probably when he's a teenager, I thought that bill might come due. But kids, of course, like to surprise you.


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It happened at a climbing gym. The place was a flurry of excitement. Kids scrambled up the walls to punch little buttons near the ceiling and mark their achievement. The hand and footholds gleamed like jellybeans. It was a birthday party. I lingered at drop-off, wishing I could join the fun.

At pick up, his smile was broad. Now his eyes were the jellybeans.

“Did you have a good time?” I asked.
“Yes. I ate pepperoni!” he announced.
“Was it good?” I floundered, struggling to mask my disappointment.
The smile slipped. “Not really,” he lied. “I think it might be meat.”

We didn’t say much as he changed to outdoor shoes.

As we walked back to the car, I placed my arm over his little shoulder. I wanted to signal that we were closer to each other than we might feel at that moment; because we always will be, no matter which way the experiment finally goes.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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