Boy Meats World

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.


Jos� Mar�a Olmos Sant

Interesting article. Thanks.

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago


Teri J.
Teri Jo S7 years ago

Eric, You've looked at food from both sides now..
Which side do you find is more vocal about their food choices?
I have been confronted by angry carnivores who don't approve of my meal choices. I hope your son is not treated badly for his choices.

Teri J.
Teri Jo S7 years ago

Wow! You covered a lot in a short article. I was raised to be a omnivore, the thought of a meal with no meat would be laughable.
From the moment I learned where meat came from, it troubled me as a child to think about those cute animals getting killed. But, it was unacceptable at the time not to eat meat at each meal.
As an adult, when I moved away from home, I chose to stop eating meat. It was a easy decision but initially difficult to maintain. Although, I could never go back to eating it, there was something addicting about the texture of meat. Had I made this decision for any other reason than humanity, it would have been hard.
So, I have always wondered if a child is given a choice if they would actually prefer meat?

Rooibos Bird
IE Ries7 years ago

Interesting article, Eric, thanks for sharing some insight about your son's dietary path.

"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."

And therein lies the logical inconsistency which completely invalidates this "position" because captivity and execution aren't consistent with "care and dignity."

Show me even ONE example of an animal that is willing to die, does not every struggle physically or emit vocalization of protest...because I know there aren't any, and there never will be.

The killing of other creatures by humans for any reason is an act of a conquerer dominating merely because the human can, not because it's moral, ethical, and certainly NOT because it's "death with dignity."

The "death with dignity" applies to humans as it is solely a human social construct, so to those who keep making up excuses about how you'll "only eat the animal if it had a good life" (more subjective drivel), stop trying to forcibly apply it to animals to artificially assuage twinges of guilt and doubt and admit that you - in your insatiable desire for flesh - are merely killing because you can and want to, either directly or by proxy, not because you actually "need" the flesh.

Regis Gasparotto
Regis Gasparotto7 years ago

The bull has 4 stomachs to digest his vegetarian diet.
We are omnivorous by nature , a simple analysis of the formation of our teeth will give you that conclusion.
A moderate consumption of meat in combination with fresh vegetables, grains and nuts will bring you a perfect diet in nutritional terms .
But if you are starved for attention and willing to feel "much better" than the rest of the omnivorous human race you already have the answer...

gail d.
gail dair7 years ago


Glenn Askew
Glenn A7 years ago

That seems to be the predictable reaction to vegetarian diets.."What about the protien?"
What about the bull that was slaughtered for your meat?..(Before factory farms) it lived its entire post weaned life eating nothing but a vegetatian diet, didn't seem to bother IT at all. Seriously!!! if the proper research is done, all essentials for human life can be found in a vegan diet. Grains, beans and nuts are Packed with protien, for example, 8 oz of lentils has MORE protien that the equivelant weight of a porterhouse steak!!This "we MUST eat meat" is a result of decades of advertising (brainwashing) by the Meat and dairy producers of the world, to of course, sell thier product. People like Michealangelo,DaVinci,Ben Franklin and Bernard Shaw were vegans..and i am sure this battle will never end..I am vegetarian by simple choice..nothing moral OR ethical ..just, i would rather not eat meat, and i am a very healthy 53 years old, and not long ago i ran into a buddy i hadn't seen in 15 years, and the first thing he said to me was "at least you could have had the decency to have turned gray!!" ROFL.. As long as the RESEARCH is done..a proper healthy way of living as vegetarian/vegan is ABSOLUTELY possible,from birth to whenever. as for Breastfeeding...all animals,even herbivores, start thier life breastfeeding, as this has all the nutrition and fats, not to mention the antibodies needed for growth/survival.

Monica D.
Monica D8 years ago

Perhaps the parents can meet half way on it, until the child is old enough to decide.

Vural K.
Past Member 8 years ago