Should I decide what's best or let him make his own choice?
By V.K. Harber
Very often, when people learn that my partner and I are vegan, we are asked the same two questions:
“What do you eat?" and “What do you feed your toddler?”
The answer to the first question is: everything on planet earth that is not animal-derived, which is a lot, though I understand that for people who have been raised in an environment where meat is the centerpiece of most meals, that can be hard to imagine.
The answer to the second question is: whatever he wants. Our son is not vegan. Based on his current preferences he is pescatarian, which means he’s basically vegetarian but also eats fish.
In Kitchen Confidential, one of my favorite reads written by one of my favorite humans, Anthony Bourdain, he writes: Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans ... are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit”
I was a life-long vegetarian the first time I read the book and I laughed out loud at this sentence. I’ve always felt nothing but sympathy for people who very generously invite me to dinner and then discover that I don’t eat what they consider to be “normal”. For people who love food, it is difficult to imagine limiting yourself. On top of that, there are a lot of vegetarians and vegans out there who do not make the best impression when they think out loud for all to hear that their food preferences should be the preferences of the masses.
Suffice to say, I’m not one of those. I very much try to live and let live and trust that most people operate from a good place with the best of intentions and that everybody is doing the best they know how. That said, I have to do what I believe to be the best as well and for me personally deciding to become vegan felt like the best decision for my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
I also want to say: I love food! Like, a lot. A lot of people who come to our table usually leave saying how they can’t believe what they ate was vegan and that they too could be vegan if they could eat like this. (I resist the urge to say, “You could!” and instead just gracefully accept the compliment)
Having been raised a vegetarian, it was never hard for me not to eat meat; you can’t miss what you’ve never had. I thought I would likely die without cheese and yogurt when I made the switch to veganism but I was pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly my body took to the transition. In fact my body has never felt better and I know that I made a good decision for me.
But this brings me to our son. I made a good decision for me. It is one that I can and should make for him? I know that there are vegans out there who cannot imagine feeding their children what they themselves would not eat. Does this make me lazy? Fearful? A pragmatist?
Perhaps yes, to all of it. I am afraid of him not getting all the nutrients he needs since, as a toddler, he is very busy and it would be incredibly difficult to get him to eat the quantity and variety of foods required in a vegan diet to satisfy nutritional needs. (Fearful) I could do it, but it would be hard and incredibly time-consuming. (Lazy) On top of that, we live in a country where it is very normal for other people to offer food to your child while out and about and it is very insulting to refuse it. (Pragmatic) Also, I have very distinct memories of being the kid at school with the garlicky hummus and sprouts sandwich that nobody wanted to trade and everybody’s parents being at a complete loss as to what to feed me when I was a guest in their home.
More that that, though, I’m not sure it’s my place to decide for my son. I think it is my job to provide healthy, unprocessed, real food and to allow him to make his own choices. In our world as it exists today, what and how we eat is politically and morally charged. Me deciding for him what and how that will be feels like me telling him what his politics should be when he grows up and what his connection should or should not be to the idea of God, to say nothing of my desire for him to learn to listen to his body and to eat what makes him feel best.
What we put into our bodies, in the end, is a very personal choice, albeit one that does indeed have wide-reaching consequences for everyone. Healthcare costs and environmental concerns affect us all and are directly influenced by the way food is grown, raised, processed, and eaten. It is for this reason that I struggle continuously with the questions of how to handle his diet. Am I doing the right thing? I don’t know. Am I doing my best? I think so. Am I helping him to grow up to be a person who makes mindful choices? I sure hope so. Am I overthinking it? Probably!
Photo attribution: By Takver from Australia (Its Time to Evolve - Go Vegan) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
About V.K. Harber
V.K. Harber is a yogi, writer and mother of one. She is the co-founder and former managing director of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center in Tacoma, WA, a non-profit yoga studio.She currently resides in Seoul, South Korea where she works as a yoga teacher and post-partum doula. (www.vkharber.com) She is also a contributing writer at World Moms Blog and can be found on twitter @VKHarberRYT.