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March 23, 2009

Help! My Kid's a Vegetarian

No-cows copy Like any good parent, I worry about my kids and the internet. When my husband and I got them their own computer we made sure to put it in the kitchen in plain sight, so that I could keep an eye on them.  That way, while I was chopping potatoes I could make sure they weren’t chatting with any 43-year-old men pretending to be 12-year-old girls, or looking at R-rated pictures of Disney stars.  You know the ones.

But little did I know that the real danger lurked in things that got sent to them by their own friends.  Because it was one such email that had a drastic effect on our lives - a video emailed to my tween by a well-meaning classmate.

Calm down it wasn't porn. It was a grainy, black and white video of a slaughterhouse. And it turned my daughter into – shudder – a vegetarian.

I have to admit the video was effective.  With a mournful background track and narrated in hushed tones, all the shots of the sad-eyed cows and ailing chickens were really heartbreaking and seemed made to play on the emotions of a sensitive tween girl.  In fact, a couple of days after my daughter announced her conversion to her new lifestyle, I read this article on MSNBC.com which estimated that 1 in 200 kids is vegetarian and cited YouTube slaughterhouse videos as a big factor in the recent surge in adolescent vegetarianism. (They put the rate of vegetarians among older teens even higher; possibly four to six times that of kids.)  And here I thought those annoying Fred videos were the biggest thorn in my side.  

Now before all you non-meat-eaters flood my inbox with your scolding emails, let me just say I’m not against vegetarianism.  As a family we’re pretty healthy eaters, and soy bacon, vegetarian peperoni and a vast array of tofu products are all staples in our home.  I’m also aware of the cruelty that takes place in getting my tri-tips and chicken nuggets to our table, and the health concerns in loading up my plate with those yummy pork chops.  I’ve boycotted a few restaurants that PETA has told me to, and learned to look for the words 'Free Range' on my chicken instead of 'Big and Tasty.' I have friends that are lifelong vegetarians that have introduced me to tempeh and vegan muffins who I allow to take me to restaurants with names like 'Vegan Village' and 'Meatless Sal's.'  But life without bacon?  I’m not sure is worth living.

The other thing is, when that vegetarian is 12, living under your roof and doesn’t quite know her way around the kitchen yet that means double the work for the cook.  I’m talking two different sets of meals on most nights – one for my vegetarian daughter, and another for the carnivore half of my family consisting of me, my husband and my 10-year-old who, while being guilted by her older sister into apologizing to her turkey burger one night then ended that tender moment with, “down the hatch!”  Not to mention preparing their school lunches. What was already the bane of my existence has turned into a nightly agonizing ordeal – how many different ways are there to make a PB&J or a veggie wrap? And again, on many days that means preparing both a meat and a non-meat lunch, as the tofu lunchmeat I tried to pass off on my younger daughter one day didn’t go over so well.  I think I heard the words “Felt like I was eating my notebook.”

The upside?  We are eating healthier because of my daughter’s new found activism.  We’re eating a lot more fish (although she’s seen the video on mercury poisoning, so tuna is kept to a minimum as well) and a lot less steaks. I make all of her lunches now, instead of trying to convince her that the corndogs in the cafeteria are actually made out of corn.  And I’ve got her eating a bigger variety of vegetables as well – she no longer turns up her nose at eggplant, although brussels sprouts are still a tough sell.  But I’m holding out hope that she finds a happy medium, and considers eating some organic chicken or maybe even a meatball or two.  Until then, I’m working on my own emotional video, showing how a lonely turkey cutlet was looking to be loved by a teenaged girl.

This is an original post to Los Angeles Moms Blog.

When Marsha isn't trying to coax her daughter into eating a slice of bacon, she also posts on her personal blog Sweatpantsmom, lists things she likes over on Views From The Pants and skewers celebrities over on FameCrawler.


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