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Journeying towards ethical eating while getting along with others

post #1 of 91
Thread Starter 

I feel a need to share about some issues we’re dealing with in order to get feedback regarding our relationships with others.


We got to enjoy about a year of experience with raising chickens and during that time, we all, especially our now 12yo dd, learned a lot about what beautiful and intelligent creatures these animals really are, each with his or her own unique personality. Dd1 no longer eats chickens and is, of course, very upset by what we have learned about their inhumane treatment in many agricultural settings, and also by the fact that chickens are not even protected by animal rights laws.


As for dh and me, we’ve come to a more general realization that everything has a consciousness, and we realize that the logical and humane response to this is to either become vegan or only consume animals/animal products that have been raised/produced humanely. However, we are a couple that started our family with pretty much the “standard American” view of eating,  and we are now also severely economically challenged and feel kind of stuck with the need, for now, to buy most of our food at places like Aldi’s.


For us, right now, it’s a matter of using our very limited budget in a balanced way – on the one hand, making sure we have enough of the food our daughters already like (and their preferences have been greatly influenced by dh’s and my previous habits) so that they won’t ever be hungry, and on the other hand, moving toward a more natural, ethical way of eating and continuing to introduce a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. They do enjoy some fruits and vegetables a lot, and always have, but I am working to instill, in our whole family, a greater appreciation for natural foods as well as a respect for the whole circle of life.


Our 12yo, in contrast, is quite naturally focused specifically on the chickens with whom she developed loving relationships and whom she called by name. She has gradually come to grips with the fact that most of the world is going to keep on eating chickens, but she still becomes very upset when she hears people speak about them in an uncaring way.


Dh and I, as adults, realize that everyone is in a different place on his or her journey, and we can also remember a time when we had our own very ignorant and disrespectful attitudes toward the sanctity of animal life. This helps us to avoid feeling too upset or judgmental regarding the (in our opinion) ignorant attitudes of some other people. We also don’t feel at all inclined to confront or argue with other people about this topic, knowing that everyone has to come to their own realizations in their own time.


 It looks like I will need to finish my story in a second post, because I'm not able to add the rest in this post.

Edited by mammal_mama - 1/9/13 at 12:27pm
post #2 of 91
Thread Starter 

So sometimes I feel caught between a rock and a hard place, feeling a need to advocate for my daughter and at the same time, feeling a need to help her deal with and accept real people just as they are. For example, the other night, we attended our first meeting with a group that we think we will be joining. Dd liked one of the other girls in the group and I think she wants to go back.


At the same time, she left this meeting very upset. It was a more casual planning meeting, and not a typical one, because the group is just getting started. And towards the end, one of the moms who is also a leader started animatedly sharing about her recent experience with slaughtering chickens for the first time. She got rather graphic, and toward the end of the story, expressed the view that you don’t need to treat chickens humanely because they are chickens.


My dd was conversing with her new friend and I was hoping that she hadn’t been paying attention to this woman’s story – but I realized that she had been when she told the woman that she was offended, and told her, “You treat chickens humanely because they have a consciousness” (I was, by the way, very proud of the way that dd expressed her feelings and later told her so).


The woman insisted that they don’t have any consciousness and asked dd, “Are you vegan?” – and I felt compelled to tell her that we’re not vegan because we’re very economically challenged (I realize that just being economically challenged doesn’t prevent a family from being vegan or from eating ethically, but, for people who started raising their kids “standard American,” we have found that having a low income can really make it challenging to make the shift and still make sure our kids are getting enough to eat). I also explained how much dd had bonded with her chickens when we had them.


This woman basically expressed the attitude that if you’re not going to be vegan, you need to be aware of and accept where your food is coming from. I can see her point when it comes to adults, but this seems like an unfair burden to place on children. Anyhow, we left the meeting pretty quickly, and the woman seemed to realize as we were headed out the door that she’d really upset my daughter and told me, “I hope you’ll be back!” I just said “Thanks,” and headed on out to be there for dd.


When we got to the car, dd said something like, “I’d like to see her running around with her head cut off, bleeding everywhere, and see how funny she thinks it is then!”


Now that I realize dd is pretty interested in staying in the group, but is still also pretty upset with this woman, who may very well end up being the leader of dd’s age group, I feel a need for advice about how to help dd navigate this issue, and how to navigate it myself.

post #3 of 91

Well, I am a vegetarian and I am trying to limit our dairy as 3 our of the 4 of us have issues with dairy. I also shop at Aldi's. They have great prices on produce (although not organic like I would prefer) and offer a wide variety of fruits & veggies IMO. Twice recently for dinner, I made cut up raw veggies with a guacamole dip and baked potatoes.  That was it. Usually adding a protein or fat source, such as guacamole, nut butter, etc to some of your fruits and veggies throughout the day will help with keeping full and making sure the family is getting enough of what they need. My DH eats the most, and my two kids snack frequently on healthy foods. I have cut down costs of grocery shopping by not buying a lot of sweets and junk food, making my own cookies or easy foods like banana breads, muffins, etc which can be loaded with added protein to keep full, and not buying pop or juice. But, my kids have eaten like this from the beginning. They have never had a typical American diet, so I understand it may be harder for your kids. I meal plan and shop frequently, as we use up our fresh produce pretty quickly.


But vegetarian or even vegan meals, can be just as cheap if not cheaper than meals with meat and just as hardy. For example, I make a great vegetarian chili which even people outside my home seem to like, and its rather inexpensive. Tonight I'm making pepper, onion, and portabella fajitas with spanish rice & beans. I also have sweet potato and carmelized onion stuffed shells on the menu this week. All three of those meals are vegan and cheap.


I think its important for your kids to know why you are choosing to change your eating habits, and I think your daughter is on the right track. She understands that animals have a consciousness and do feel pain. Personally I think it was rude of that women to talk to your daughter like that. Your daughter does understand where her food comes from, and she's choosing to not eat some foods because of it. I have many people telling me my kids (who are only 3.5 & 2yrs) will one day eat meat, that I can't stop them. And I know I very well cannot. But I hope to instill in them the reason why we do not eat meat and hope they understand and believe those reasons enough to hopefully not eat meat as they get older. Or at least try to eat family farm raised, vegetarian fed, or grass fed, or humanely treated meat. But I think you're already on the right track with your kids.


Also, you don't have to explain to people that you don't have enough money to be vegan or vegetarian. They don't need to know that. Just tell them you are starting to change your diet to reflect your new beliefs, but may have some speed bumps along the way. Also, look up the book / website Vegan on $4 a Day. It can be done. 

post #4 of 91

Maybe your DD would be able to say something if that topic or a similar one came up again.  Like, "Let's not talk about that please.  I have very different views on that subject than you do."  If it's not a group that has anything to do with farming, diets, or anything where a dying chicken story would come up again, then maybe it will be easy. 


If that person or other group members didn't at least make an attempt to avoid topics that upset your DD then I think that group is not for her/ you all. 


Also, I totally agree that it's not that woman's place to say what your DD should be comfortable with or not.  It can be a complicated ethical/cultural/practical issue for some people.  And even if someone is comfortable with where their food comes from, that doesn't mean that they are comfortable with graphic descriptions or humor attached to the subject. 

post #5 of 91

I think that one of the things I've found during my time being vegetarian is that a lot of people can be reactive to learning you've made that choice for yourself - and feel defensive, or curious, and can't always relate to your feelings/reasons.  Why should they?  This is my own path - not theirs.  That's come to be my stance on it.  I can only speak for myself, I don't speak about vegetarianism in a manner with others where I need to convince them I'm right about it (unless they've initiated that kind of discussion).  I don't particularly like arguments, so I don't get into debates either. 



From my POV, the interaction at this event seemed a little rude (at least, coming at your dd with "are you vegan" in a 'if you aren't then who cares?' way).  And that's too bad.  I'm quite impressed with how you describe your dd bringing it up to this woman (who shouldn't be too surprised such a story would upset someone, really).  I know several people who raise chickens for slaughter and wouldn't come across so callously about it as this woman seems to have, and they also care for their chickens in other great and profound ways, so really there's a whole range of views on slaughtering chickens out there and people who do it.  And others who don't and won't slaughter chickens too.  (It being part of my teen journey to becoming vegetarian, realizing that I wouldn't want to actually kill a chicken or any other animal and didn't currently have any need to do so, I'd rather those animals live and I felt obligated to work to cease eating meat in my own life). 


I find salr's response above a great way to handle something, in the future.


Even with this difference in opinion, there can still be valuable interests this woman may have in common with your dd as as they get to know each other better.  That usually also leads to being respectful of each other's differences in opinions in more respectful ways than this incident.  Unless she has some kind of mission to push forward about this issue ('that chickens don't have a consciousness' I suppose? or that the only answer to believing in animal rights of any kind is in being vegan?) the chances that they'll be able to do other things together are pretty decent, I'd hope.

There are just so many places to be at between being vegan or having little respect for chickens.  It's okay to be there yourselves.  

You can be eating them and have thankfulness and understanding for their life.  That can be just as profound as 'being vegan'.  


Good luck in figuring out the best way to help your dd with this right now.       

post #6 of 91

By the way, I also think your DD handled it in an awesome manner. My recommendation for what to say was for this specific woman, or if it seemed appropriate for any other future use, not because I thought your DD's response needed improvement.  It sounded perfect to me!

post #7 of 91
Thread Starter 

I really appreciate all of your responses and think you are all spot on! Greenlea, thank you so much for the website/book recommendation! I agree that it's not that a vegan diet, or any other ethical diet for that matter, is anymore expensive than the "standard American diet," and it can actually be much cheaper. For us, a big part of the challenge is preparing foods that our dds will actually like enough to eat (after developing such a strong taste for the unhealthy processed stuff, which tends to be very expensive when you buy the healthy and ethical version of it), and also becoming more disciplined ourselves about taking more time to prepare things from scratch rather than resorting so much to meals from a box.


We also do go through our fresh produce really quickly and often have to do without fresh stuff for a few days while waiting for my next check or our next monthly allotment of food stamps. And when we're trying so hard to make things stretch, it can feel kind of risky to buy foods that our daughters may refuse to eat, because then we've spent the money and we can't get it back to buy them things they will eat.


But I agree that it's not necessary to go into all this with anyone. Really, saying that people who aren't 100% vegan -- or that non-vegans who aren't managing to eat nothing but humanely-raised meats and humanely-produced dairy products -- don't have any right to be upset about cruelty towards animals, or about people scoffing about animal rights, is a lot like saying that nobody has the right to be upset about global warming because virtually everyone is contributing to it in some way.


I wish that I had established myself on this journey before starting my family, but I still feel really good about what we are learning now and about the love we are developing toward all of life. I really like what Greenlea said about just telling anyone who asks that we're working to bring our diet into alignment with our beliefs. This is true, but I personally don't think I'm working hard enough yet. I hope this whole interaction can be a catalyst for me and help me move forward at a faster rate.

post #8 of 91
Thread Starter 

I also like salr's idea of how to respond if things like this come up in the future. And if the speaker tries the angle of "Well, are you vegetarian?" just resonding with Greenlea's suggestion.

post #9 of 91

On the food end of the spectrum, it may be helpful to add either in this post, or in the Food forum, some details about what your family currently eats, what your daughters like best, etc.  We may be able to brainstorm some good, less expensive substitutes than the natural-but-prepared ones that are so expensive. 


It IS such a complicated issue, and I think that it's really a matter of choosing personal battles.  I was a vegetarian for 10+ years, primarily for environmental/ethical treatment reasons.  I was also heavily into activism and politics and all sorts of other intense issues.  At some point it became to much for me and I almost started to feel like I couldn't live in this world anymore.  No matter what you stand for and act on, there are a million other things to which you are turning a blind eye.  It was SO hard to accept this in myself, but it was extremely helpful for my relationship to other people.  It helped me stop being so angry at people who didn't care about the chickens, the starving children, the ozone layer, in the life-altering way that I did.  It may be something to talk about with your daughter, because right now she is seeing this one issue and it is filling her head and she's choosing to do something about it.  Other people are making other choices and filling their heads and hearts with that stuff instead.  I feel for her.  In some ways, ignorance really is bliss. 

post #10 of 91

Aside from the issue of ethical eating (I am somewhere midway on this spectrum), I think that an important value an obviously philosophically advanced 11 year old can learn is tolerance. Throughout her life, other people will have opinions and lifestyles different than hers. Diversity enriches all of us, and the woman is entitled to her opinions. I agree she was pretty rude to challenge a young child, and if it came up again, I would probably ask her to avoid the subject as it is pretty volatile to DD. But learning to politely feel differently than others is a valuable skill. I am impressed at how well she handled it at the meeting, and it sounds like she is well on her way to defending her own choices.

post #11 of 91

I think it is great that your daughter spoke up in defense of her values. That said--I'm an evil chicken killer and I can live with that. (The chickens live well first and aren't tortured--I promise.)


In a similar situation I would coach my daughter towards saying, "I have very different values on this topic--can we please change the subject?" I think that kids have every right in the world to ask for topics to change in social situations, just like grown ups. I'm sorry the woman responded the way she did. 


Talking about food is such a hard thing to do. It feels like no matter how you do it someone is going to be mad at you.

post #12 of 91
Thread Starter 

newmamalizzy, I agree that it will be really good for me to learn how to prepare some natural and ethical substitutes for some things my girls like.


I've been thinking it over and I've realized that our main unethical staple foods are milk, eggs (though we do sometimes pay extra and buy the free range eggs), cheese, butter, mayonnaise, and ranch dressing. We go through large amounts of these items so I'm sure we couldn't afford to keep buying them, in the natural and ethical form, at our current rate of consumption. The girls do enjoy raw vegetables and salads, but they pretty much always want ranch with them. They also enjoy some cooked vegetables -- but again, always with butter and preferably also some cheese.


They love pasta covered with just plain spaghetti sauce, no meat or cheese -- but with butter melted into it. I know that many people use olive oil instead of butter in pasta, so maybe we can gradually transition into doing that by using less and less butter and more and more olive oil.


We have just purchased a wok and are waiting for it to arrive, and I am hoping that we can all start enjoying stir-fried vegetables cooked in oil instead of butter. Dh and I already enjoy these. Of course, I know that there are also cheap butter substitutes that don't involve any unethical treatment of animals; we had just gotten into the habit, a few years back, of buying real butter after I learned about the harmful stuff in those substitutes.


And we use lots and lots and lots of milk. The girls love cereal, and also pancakes. Dd1 also drinks at least 2 or 3 glasses of it per day; dd2 won't always drink it but she does consume a lot of it in her cereal. Sometimes she has 3 or 4 bowls of cereal in a day, and she never wants to eat it dry.


I think both girls would eat a large amount of raw vegetables daily, if we could afford to buy enough for them to have some every day. Right now, I'd say that they have a good-sized raw veggie snack about every other day or at least twice a week. I also think that it wouldn't be too hard for the girls and me to make meat a much smaller part of our diet, and only buy as much humanely raised meat as we could afford. It would be much harder for dh, who I think feels like it's not really a meal without meat.


We do all like beans -- but we always flavor them with some sort of meat fat or butter. I've heard that lots of vegans make soup stock and have it on hand to provide that extra something that makes beans or soups taste so much better, so this is probably something I need to start doing, too.


As you can see, I'm thinking we probably won't become pure vegans at this time -- but, rather, I want to move into an ethical use of foods coming from animals. For us, this will probalby need to mean transitioning into a largely vegan diet, mainly due to the much higher cost of milk coming from humanely-raised cows -- which is definitely worth it, but just difficult to contemplate.


I know, for example, that cooked broccoli provides as much calcium as an equal amount of milk -- but the trick is being able to buy that amount of broccoli. Also my older daughter will only eat it raw, not cooked. I think cooked greens are also a good source, and greens are something we haven't done so often. But dh and I really like them, and maybe they will grow on the girls, too.

post #13 of 91
Thread Starter 

Oh, and I definitely agree that everyone has something different that their heart is focused on, and that tolerance is such an important value for everyone to learn. At the same time, I can see how hard it is for dd, now that she has such a love for chickens, to live in a culture where so many others seem to just see them as legs, breasts, and thighs. I suppose it would be like an American living in a culture where people look at cats and dogs that way, kind of like in some movie I saw where a woman picked out a puppy she saw in a shop, thinking she was getting a new pet, and then received it all chopped up into pieces in a bag.


But we do eat meat and live in a meat-eating culture. I'm just starting to really appreciate the cultures that apologize to the animal for killing it, and thank it for nourishing their body. And I think we can grow into that kind of culture, too. And I realize that we can have more of an impact for good on our culture when we love and accept people just as they are, than we can if we hate and judge them.

post #14 of 91

Ah, what struck me reading this is  it seemed to echo the usual debate; Can we afford to raise and slaughter animals ethically? Well no and that's why we have factory farms. People don't want to make the trade off and sacrifices. Some think/ or legitimately can't make the trade off nutrition and money wise. I don't think you should get hung up too much on that.

I haven't read too much of everyone else's responses (just skimmed quickly).  

Anyway I don't know if I just read too quickly but it kind of struck me is that you seem stuck in the mindset that once your tastes for certain kinds of food develops you can never retrain you taste buds. Well, everyone whose every stuck it out on a diet will tell you that with some determination and persistence you can. Beans, lentils and legumes are ethical, healthy and cheap but I understand that changing your diet can often take some skill like relearning to cook foods other then S.A.D fare which is a big part of changing what I call your food culture or the role food plays in your lifestyle the downside is it requires time and a certain investment of patience and frustration and money. Not something you can risk but slowly over time I think its something that needs to change to be successful.

Some people like me are lucky enough to have a choice. I either eat free range eggs or I don't eat eggs. I'll eat something ethical instead like . I have a huge list on the fridge to remind me what I can buy, eat, cook and where. Make ethical choices easy for yourself to get through the adjustment stage it takes effort initially and personally I like the ripping a band-aid off quickly approach as opposed to a protracted period of changing some small things but i guess its your preference and depends on how determined you are to stick to it. Some people they change one large thing and the small things aren't that hard. 

Also, i try not to put anyone on my dislike list just because they don't share the same beliefs as I have on food or other topics. (I put food and politics on my OK to disagree list though). I don't know how to put it well in words but I'd rather get along with someone then be constantly fruitlessly trying to preach to convert them. (Waste of effort.) People aren't dumb, might be ignorant or even seem cruel because they don't seem to think animals have a consciousness and love eating them but you always have the option of not associating with them too much if it upsets you. You can't control others choices or change them. So at a certain point you have to let go and try not to let things control you. Anyway =) good luck. 

post #15 of 91
This woman basically expressed the attitude that if you’re not going to be vegan, you need to be aware of and accept where your food is coming from. I can see her point when it comes to adults, but this seems like an unfair burden to place on children.


I am not being argumentative but I don't get this.


Why should children not be burdened by knowing this? Burden being your word (not mine). I really don't understand this.

We are flesh eaters, that aside, from a very early age I have shown/instilled where are diet comes from (we see our food before and after)- so I'm really confused here. I have family that grew up on farms, they saw slandering from a very early age, my children have know this, we have had an ongoing conversation since early childhood but IMO by age 12 a child should know. Maybe I am missing something but I don't get this.

Same way if you are vegan and choose to use non-animal products in your daily life (clothing-leather, etc), I would think that the conversation about synthetics and their impact on the environment would also be topic for discussion and knowledge a child should be regularly exposed to- this ins't judgment, it's information.


ETA- we talk about all our food, not just "meats" - we talk about how things are grown, where they come from, why we by what where, etc. - money regarding our diet is also an ongoing from a very young age topic as well


If you are getting assistance (depending on the state) you can sometimes use the Access at farms/farm markets and make other non-comerrical store choices.


As the other poster mentioned if she can not get eggs (to her standards) she doesn't eat them - cheap food doesn't make it good and this has nothing to do with just meats, intake need for consumption as to not starve is one thing but also it is sometimes wise to opt for better one item vs several of less expensive - many do with ethically/organic meats - less vs non (be it standard or organic, etc)



Can you also give a little info- something seems to be missing here for me- what type of group is this? How does slandering chickens just come up- is this a food related activity? When I think of food related topics, I would think you will find all types of people with all types of diets and opinions on eating flesh and should prepare for that.


It might be wise to discuss that others will not share her thoughts and discuss how to best proceed when faced with conflicting view points, this goes for other children who may be more blunt in asking her direct questions on this and other topics.

With any topic (religion or other hot button topics) it best - IMO to prepare the child for what they may face. I frankly can see those her own age asking her more questions and having strong opinions and voicing them to her, maybe children who were there and saw what happened. 

Edited by serenbat - 1/10/13 at 11:00am
post #16 of 91
Thread Starter 

serenbat, I didn't mean that children shouldn't be burdened with the knowledge about where food comes from. We have watched the movie "Food Inc." with our daughters and we definitely believe in knowing and caring about our impact on everyone and everything around us.


I was talking more about the attitude that if I'm going to eat meat, I should be willing to slaughter it and go through the whole process of preparing it for myself. I honestly haven't done this myself yet, but I do not object to anyone telling me, as an adult, that I should be willing to engage in the whole process if I'm going to eat meat.


I do have a problem with people saying that children -- who don't usually have complete control over the foods that are served at their tables -- need to be willing to slaughter animals, or even be willing to listen to graphic accounts of their slaughter without being offended, unless they are vegan.


Yes, my daughter has gotten used to other children criticizing her for not eating chickens when she still eats other meats. They don't understand that she developed a close relationship with her chickens while she had them. Her choice to not eat chickens while still eating other meats is every bit as consistent as their choice to bury their dead dog in the backyard rather than roasting him on the spit, even though they still choose to eat other meats roasted on the spit.


I think, or hope, that we learn more objectivity as we get older, and I do work to help my children see things from other vantage points. We can't imagine the idea of eating our cats and dogs, whereas many Indians revere their cows and probably think the American practice of eating hamburgers is just awful. I think it's okay to accept our own subjectivity, but we also need to accept others' subjectivity and not berate them for being "inconsistent." We are all inconsistent in some area.

post #17 of 91
Thread Starter 

P.S. It's not a 4-H group or anything. I don't want to give the name of the organization because that doesn't seem relevant. I'm trying to remember exactly how that woman got on the topic of chicken slaughtering, but it kind of escapes me at the moment. We'd been chatting about craft materials and such.

post #18 of 91

I do have a problem with people saying that children -- who don't usually have complete control over the foods that are served at their tables -- need to be willing to slaughter animals, or even be willing to listen to graphic accounts of their slaughter without being offended, unless they are vegan.


The woman said this? She had to see slaughtering to be a vegan?  


People can ask if someone is vegan without implying they must watch slaughtering. 

I could only guess that the woman (rather she is or is not correct in how she handled it) and other children are a bit baffled by a strong opinion only for chickens, yet not being vegan and eating other "meats". I understand the chicken has a conscious but other animals do not? I could see how others would have some trouble here understand her.



P.S. It's not a 4-H group or anything. I don't want to give the name of the organization because that doesn't seem relevant. I'm trying to remember exactly how that woman got on the topic of chicken slaughtering, but it kind of escapes me at the moment. We'd been chatting about craft materials and such.

I did not ask for the name, I asked about what type of group/activity it is- food related? where topics like this come up

post #19 of 91
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by serenbat View Post

The woman said this? She had to see slaughtering to be a vegan?  

No, she didn't actually say that she had to see slaughtering. She seemed to basically be saying that if dd was not vegan, then she should not be offended by people saying things like "chickens don't have a consciousness" and "you don't need to treat chickens humanely because they are chickens."


Of course, I do understand that empathy grows in stages, and in a world where many people don't even believe babies of their own species have a consciousness -- i.e., some people say that human babies can't feel any pain while being circumcised, or that they aren't psychologically harmed by being left alone to cry themselves to sleep -- in such a world, it's only to be expected that many people would view animals as totally "other."


It's been a real growth process for dh and me, and I appreciate those of you who reminded me that I don't need to be trying to rationalize to others why we believe animals have a consciousness, and yet have not managed, at this point, to completely stop eating animals/animal products that have not been raised/produced humanely.

post #20 of 91
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by serenbat View Post

People can ask if someone is vegan without implying they must watch slaughtering. 

I could only guess that the woman (rather she is or is not correct in how she handled it) and other children are a bit baffled by a strong opinion only for chickens, yet not being vegan and eating other "meats". I understand the chicken has a conscious but other animals do not? I could see how others would have some trouble here understand her.


I don't know if anyone was baffled -- but it was pretty clear to me, and probably to anyone else who may have been listening, that dd was responding to the woman's comments about not needing to treat chickens humanely -- she was not saying that anyone who eats chickens is evil incarnate.

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