Growing up Italian and Irish, every dinner consisted of meat, potatoes and a vegetable. There was no altering the menu. So the fact that I ended up being a vegetarian was a bit of a surprise to my parents. I think they thought I joined a cult! For me, it was not that far of a stretch.
As a kid, I was not a big fan of meat. My parents would make me 'clean my plate' before leaving the table. So to avoid eating meat, I would hide it in my napkin or keep it in my mouth until dinner was over. My parents quickly caught onto those tricks so then I would hide the meat in my pants' pocket and throw it away after dinner. That one never failed!
So as I grew up and could choose for myself what to eat, I stopped eating certain meats. It was also around that time that Ken and I started volunteering at an animal shelter, and I loved it. So after doing some soul-searching, I decided to stop eating meat. Ken was very supportive of my decision, but my family and friends thought I was nuts. How could I not eat meat? What would I eat?
It was not only family and friends who could not fathom this decision, but co-workers, waiters, cashiers, etc. When people found out I was a vegetarian, they would either stare at me like I had some disease or I would get the third-degree. Why am I doing this? What do I eat? Will I ever go back? Co-workers use to try to bet me to eat meat. Or, they would pick steakhouses for client dinners just to see what I would order. Everyone wanted to be there for when I "gave in" and ate meat again.
About a year later, Ken took the plunge and decided to stop eating meat as well. Contrary to popular belief, I did not "pressure' Ken into this decision. His reasons were similar to mine, but he also saw the health benefits from it as well. At this point, our family and friends realized this was not just a phase, but we were serious about this decision. They became very supportive of our choice. That was in 1995, so for about 10 years our decision to be vegetarians was a non-issue. Even my co-workers got bored with it. That was until we had children.
When I got pregnant with Cooper, everyone wanted to know what we were going to do about the "meat thing". Would I eat meat while I was pregnant? Would the kids eat meat? To us, it seemed like a no-brainer. I remained a vegetarian while I was pregnant and we decided to raise our children as vegetarians. Meat substitute products had improved greatly and we were making meals everyday that included "meat", potatoes and a vegetable. We spoke to our doctors about it and they supported our decision. So we decided we would try it, however if it affected our children's health or development in any way, we would make a change.
Well, this did not go over well for some people. Along with the health concerns, people challenged us on how we could put our kids in such a tough position of being different? What would happen when they went to McDonalds with their friends and could not eat Chicken McNuggets? What would they eat when they were invited over to their friend's house for dinner? Why were we giving our children a 'disadvantage' right off the bat? Wasn't life hard enough?
These were all things Ken and I considered, but for us, our reasons for being vegetarians were important us and still are today.
We know there will be some tough conversations ahead of us. Cooper and Cole will have questions and probably challenge us on this, and that is OK. My guess is at least one of them will probably grow up and decide to eat meat, and that is OK too. All Ken and I can do is give them our reasons for being vegetarians and give them the tools and information they need to make educated decisions for themselves.
I never really thought about it until I started writing this entry, but maybe raising our children as vegetarians can be about more than just not eating meat. Maybe Cooper and Cole will also learn about standing by their beliefs and what they think is right. Maybe it will help them to be more accepting of things and people who are different. Maybe it will make them stronger and grow up to be better men.
Who knows? I still haven't figured out what to tell the boys when someday they want to order Chicken McNuggets at McDonalds. Any ideas?
Filed under: Vegetarian