My Nine-Year-Old Son
Wants To Be a Vegetarian
By Dolores Cowie
Hello and thank you for your website. My husband and I have been meat eaters all our lives, but now our middle son wants to be a vegetarian. I am an accomplished home cook, and I have always exposed my children to lots of different foods.
Last night, however, after watching an episode of Iron Chef, my nine year old was deeply disturbed by the cooks "fishing" for their tilapia in the huge water tanks. The segment was graphic. The cooks were literally slicing and peeling off chunks of flesh from the withering struggling animal. It was a bit much, even for me.
We had a big family discussion about our animal protein sources, the big factory butchers and farms. We even talked about fishermen and hunters we know personally.
My son, however, thinks that we live in an abundant world and that maybe it is not necessary in our modern world to contribute to the commercial slaughtering of animals. He was angry and disgusted when he thought about his own eating habits and favorite foods. We talked to him about the hamburgers and pizzas he likes so much. He vowed to change his ways and even tore up his school lunch menu for the week. He said he did not want to eat animals anymore. My husband and I were stunned because he felt so passionate about it. We talked to him about the vegetables he resists so much at the dinner table, and he said that he would have to learn to eat differently.
I just want to say thanks for your website. It gives me encouragement knowing that there are groups of people who have made vegetarian eating a lifestyle choice and are not afraid to share it with others. I told my son there are hundreds of thousand of people who feel the same way he does and are committed to eating and living differently. I enjoy cooking and I enjoy challenges. My husband and I have decided to learn about vegetarian cooking and make an effort every day to offer our little guy a tasty alternative to animal protein.
Thank you very much. If you can recommend any cookbooks (I have Moosewood and Fit for Life in my library already) for beginning vegetarians, I would be most grateful.
Vegetarians in Paradise Response
We commend you for your openness and willingness to truly listen and respond in a positive way to your son's deep feelings about embracing vegetarianism. It's a noble decision, especially for one so young.
We often receive emails from distraught children who feel as your son does about not wanting to contribute to the commercial slaughtering of animals or cause pain and suffering to animals. They also feel that a vegetarian path leaves a kinder footprint on the earth, ecologically speaking. Their parents, however, are not sympathetic to their concerns and are unwilling to help them in any way. Some of the parents even insist that the child not leave the table until they have eaten their meat.
Contrary to popular thinking, eating vegetarian or vegan is not difficult. True, many foods may be new. We think of the vegetarian lifestyle as a journey--we all have much to learn and much to gain from choosing a plant-based diet.
Would you be willing to give us permission to print your letter in our online magazine? We believe our readers will find it encouraging to know that others are beginning to see the world a little differently and reconsider what they put on their dinner plate. If you agree, we would love to have a statement from your son and his photo. Also, it would be great to have a photo of you and your husband and son together.
Below are a number of suggestions that will help to support your family in this new direction.
It's important to be well-informed to be sure you are taking good care of your health.
Begin by looking at our Vegetarian Basics 101 for an overview of the vegetarian diet at http://www.vegparadise.com/basics.html
To answer the many questions that arise about protein, read our Protein Basics at http://www.vegparadise.com/protein.html Often new vegetarians think they need more protein when they actually need more complex carbohydrates to fuel their bodies.
We also have a feature called The Road to Vegetaria at http://www.vegparadise.com/vegetaria.html Following the introduction, there are many suggestions and recipes.
Other features on our website you may find helpful are the annotated list of vegetarian books called Vegparadise Bookshelf at http://www.vegparadise.com/bookshelf.html as well as book reviews in Vegetarian Reading at http://www.vegparadise.com/vegreadingarchive.html
Visit a natural food market such as Whole Foods or Wild Oats and familiarize yourself with the many "whole foods" that will support your health. Check the freezer section to find convenience foods.
Visit your local library and read whatever they have in the vegetarian section. Many vegetarian cookbooks have helpful information at the front of the book.
Relying on convenience foods all the time may not provide all best nutrients for good health. Take an active part in preparing your own foods. Check our Recipe Index for some tasty vegan dishes. Every day be sure to include foods from each of the following categories: fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Tofu is made from soybeans and is very high in protein. Meat substitutes are also a good source of protein and often contain soy protein as well as wheat gluten.
Be sure you are drinking plenty of water--that's Mother Nature's best beverage choice.
When you eat out in non-vegetarian restaurants, be sure to ask questions about ingredients that may not be clearly visible or desirable on your new eating regimen. Many restaurants are very service oriented and are willing to prepare simple vegetable dishes for you.
After you've done a little homework, don't hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have.
Health and Joy,
Zel and Reuben Allen
The Cowie Answer
Thanks so much for responding to my email. Yes, please submit my letter. I want to send a picture of my little guy too. He was really excited when he heard about it. Gosh, a family picture. My vanity kicks in. I may ruin the cuteness of my son. My husband knows about how digital cameras work and can send it.
Changing eating habits requires different thinking, and Jacob is not doing it all at once, but as he points out. "I am trying not to be a carnivore anymore, Mom." We went to a birthday party, and he did not eat the tacos he ordered. He did not even think about it; he just ordered the taco meal. He looked at his plate and just ate the cheese beans and rice. He did not know that the rice was probably cooked with chicken broth. I don't want to be a Nazi with him, but at least at home I am making him rice with tomato broths and vegetable broths, true vegetarian meals. He loves chicken and dumplings, and I managed to make him a meatless stew. I used nutritional yeast to give it a thicker richer flavor, and he seemed to really enjoy it.
Jacob really likes bacon and seems to crave it at times. It is obviously not the pork because any meat by itself has virtually no flavoring. I wonder if it is the salt and the texture. To be honest too I probably conditioned him to like it because it is something that we eat at home. Wow, this is so much responsibility.
I don't want to get overwhelmed with guilt, though. I just want to be responsible.