My wife is a vegetarian; I am not. As a food writer, I consider my omnivorous predisposition to be an occupational hazard, or at least an occupational necessity. We have coexisted just fine, with a mutual respect and nary an argument.
Once our child entered the age of solid food, the question of what to feed him, and whether that sustenance should be animal, weighed heavily on our minds. The vegetarian vs. carnivore battle of wits is an age-old argument that is highly emotional, moral, and topical.
The cultivation and consumption of industrialized animal products (Beef, Chicken, Pork) has received the blame for much of the modern world’s pollution and carbon woes. Abhorrent conditions and treatment of livestock (including confinement, hormone injections, and lack of care for sick or injured animals) has outraged animal rights activists and compassionate consumers alike, and then there is the sticky issue of killing animals for the sake of dinner.
Meat eaters, even the most compassionate, proactive ones, assert their right to consume animal products, just as long as the animals were treated with care and dignity to the very end of their lives.
I have found myself stuck in the crossfire at dinner parties, as both camps lobbed insults, as well as persuasive arguments in favor of their particular position on the food chain. And when it comes to feeding children meat, or holding them to vegetarian/vegan standards, there exists a good deal of controversy as well.
A noted, and tragic case from 2007, where a set of vegan parents inadvertently starved their 6-week-old baby by refusing to give him anything but soy milk and apple juice, created a good deal of furor and backlash against the vegan, and vegetarian, movements.
Also, there exists compelling arguments in favor of feeding young children an omnivorous diet, as some essential nutrients found in meat are said to be all but absent in a vegetarian diet. This point is often, and emphatically, refuted by pro-vegan/vegetarian activists and nutritionists, with facts and figures that assure concerned parents that with a balanced diet of leafy greens, nuts, and grains, that a child will get all the protein, B vitamins, and essential nutrients they will ever need.
All things considered, I personally feel confident that feeding my child a largely vegetarian diet, with or without an occasional taste of fish and meat, will provide a more than adequate diet for a growing brain and body. And to some degree, I think we were granted a quick reprieve from having to decide whether he was going to be an omnivore or a vegetarian, seeing as he, thus far, has no taste for flesh.
However, the multifaceted issue of whether to impose your moral, environmental, and ethical concerns on your child by supplying them, or denying them, a varied diet is still a thorny one. How do you contend with the choice to feed, or not to feed, your children animal products? Is your choice, their choice, and if so, do they understand why they are abstaining?
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.