At what age do you discuss the ethical side of vegetarianism? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 02-26-2010, 08:13 PM - Thread Starter
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I've raised my girls as vegetarians from birth, so they've never eaten meat. I'm also a vegetarian, but my DH is not (he will eat chicken, turkey, and fish only though, no mammals, and he rarely eats meat at home because we just don't cook it here). He is perfectly ok with them being raised veggie and agrees that the choice is up to them when they get older.
Anyways, that's the backstory. My question though is when do you start talking about WHY we don't eat meat? And explaining what meat is (a dead animal)....
Yesterday my DD1 asked her friend for a slice of deli meat when we were at a park day, the mom knew we had food allergies (younger DD is severely nut allergic) and told her to ask me, and that's when I saw it was meat and told her no, lets just eat our own snacks. She asked why, and I said because we're vegetarian. She was ok with that answer in the moment, but I wasn't sure what I would have said if she wanted a better answer than that! She is a SERIOUS animal lover, she's told me she wants to be a doctor for animals when she grows up, she gets ecstatic when she sees cows out her car window, things like that, and I think it would upset her to know that her friends (or her dad) were actually EATING an animal. For reference, she got a zoobook that showed an owl with a mouse in his beak, and she was pretty upset over it. She told me to tell the owl to put the mouse down so he could run away. I tried explaining that owls eat mice, cycle of life thing....didn't go over so well....

She's going to be 4. Do you think that's old enough to get a gentle intro into the truth, that some people eat animals, but we've made the decision not to do that?
I think she's under the impression that when I tell her she can't eat things (like a hot dog at a BBQ when she could eat one, tofu version, at home), that it's like with her sister's allergies, that those versions of the foods are just not "safe" for her, even though she does not have allergies, so she just sort of takes that as the way it is and moves on.
Thanks for any input!

mama to August May (8/06) Liberty Kiana (7/08) and Calliope Rose (6/15/10)
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#2 of 6 Old 02-26-2010, 09:12 PM
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We just got this childrens book and love it!

That's Why We Don't Eat Animals by Ruby Roth

We got it through Amazon.
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#3 of 6 Old 02-27-2010, 04:57 AM
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I think the ethical issues tend to cover themselves once you you tell them what meat is.

When DS was 3 1/2 yo he wanted some kind of meat dish for dinner when we were out at a restaurant. I told him I'd explain what it was when we got home. When we got home we watched Babe. I then simply explained that meat was dead animals and that we don't eat meat b/c we don't want to hurt them.

It's something we repeat whenever DS sees something that he thinks he might want but I tell him it's meat. One time at Ikea in the cafe he saw the picture of the hot-dogs and said he wanted one of the tofu-dogs. When I explained that they weren't tofu-dogs, but that they were made out of meat he said "we don't want eat dogs b/c we don't to hurt dogs." I then had to explain they were probably cows or pigs, but he didn't want to hurt cows and pigs either.

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#4 of 6 Old 02-27-2010, 06:28 AM
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If they are coming up with these kinds of conclusions on their own, I think they are ready to start learning more about the ethics of vegetarianism.

Whenever DD learns about the meat content of some dish, she came up with her own explanation. "We don't eat that because we don't eat animals. I love animals." Pretty much sums it up. She's 4, by the way.
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#5 of 6 Old 02-27-2010, 07:42 AM
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at her age, I think a simple explanation works best, something like:
animals are friends, not food
vegetarians save animals lives

when she gets older you can explain factory farming, environmental destruction, and heath reasons.

I know you're worried shell freak out when she learns what meat is, and I'm sorry to say this, but your fear is warranted. She probably will have some negative reaction. So postpone it A while if you want. and make sure she's in a safe place and a good mood when you tell her. But make sure she learns it from you and feels empowered by vegetarianism; don't let her learn about it accidentally at preschool/kindergarten from people who are hostile to vegetarianism.
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#6 of 6 Old 02-27-2010, 12:37 PM
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My son is a month older than your older daughter, and we've talked about it before. Like a PP said, once you explain what meat is, they make the ethical connections themselves. It is hard for DS to accept that other people (especially loved ones like his father and grandparents) eat meat but I say things like "that's a choice everyone has to make for themselves. I choose not to eat animals" and he usually says "me too!" Sometimes he says that Daddy and Grammy and Gramps have to learn that it's not nice to eat our animal friends and I say "maybe someday they will. You should tell them that."

He also knows there's a difference between things like "fake chicken nuggets" and "real chicken nuggets" and will check with me before eating something that's offered. Or he'll ask the offerer "does that hot dog have piggies in it?" or something along those lines. So, I would say she's old enough to start having the conversation, in very casual, general ways.
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