Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Give Peas a Chance

A sad day is on the horizon: the day Dylan no longer fits into one of our favorite items of his clothing. Given to him by his dear Auntie M, this stylish onesie is not only made from soft organic cotton, it also boldly encourages our boy (and everyone else) to discover the yumminess of a certain veggie too often unfairly disparaged.

As a nine-month, our son is still getting the vast majority of his calories and nutrition through his bottle of formula, so his diet isn't that different from most kids' his age. We've introduced the typical purees and then small pieces of fruits and vegetables slowly, and he's been a pretty good eater. Even though he furrows his brow and grimaces (adorably) with the first bite, he will usually even finish his peas.

But as he matures, most "experts" advise beginning to feed him small pieces of meat. This is something we have no plans to do. Dylan is a vegetarian baby.

Way back when, during the first, nervous phone conversation M and I had as singles looking for love, we talked about a lot of things. But it wasn't until the subject of food came up that I became really enthusiastic about the deep-voiced guy on the end of the line.

I asked M what kind of cuisine he enjoyed, and he said something like, "Thai, Italian, Middle Eastern..." There was something about the way he excluded "ribs" and "burgers" that prompted me to make a confession. "I like those foods too. I'm a vegetarian, and they all have great veggie options."

"You're vegetarian?" asked M. "Me too!"

Although we'd already found a lot of commonalities, this was a big one (especially for me, since in the U.S. there are so many fewer vegetarian men than women). We talked a bit more and learned that we are the same kind of vegetarian: we both eat diary, eggs, and seafood, but not other kinds of meat.

Most importantly, we learned that we made our dietary choices for the same reasons. We both don't like the way animals are treated as commodities and tortured and killed for a meal. We both don't like how distant consumers in supermarkets and restaurants are from the process that brought animals to their plates. We both have serious concerns about how the food industry impacts the environment and how much more damage is done because of livestock. (Do you know how much corn is used to feed chickens? Why not just eat the corn?!) And, we both think that a plant-based diet is the healthiest option.

We have, from time to time, asked ourselves, "If we believe all of those things - and we do - why aren't we vegan, avoiding all animal byproducts entirely?" The answer is, while we admire vegans, that is a lifestyle we personally can't tolerate. It's too extreme - at least right now - for M and me. It would take away more of the enjoyment we get out of dining than we can handle. (Is a life without chocolate gelato really worth living?)

In fact, I'll share that when we travel, our diets sometimes vary from the usual in the name of "cultural immersion" so that we can try local specialties.

So, now back to Dylan: when M and I shared our adoption plans with friends and family, we often got the question: "Will your child be vegetarian?" Truthfully, I was always startled by the question.

M and I both choose to be vegetarian because it reflects our values, and since we see that one of our most important roles as parents - adoptive or otherwise - is teaching our child our values, of course Dylan will be vegetarian.

But then I feel I need to modify my declaration.

For both of us, what we eat is a very personal decision. Fortunately, it's the same decision...which makes dinner planning much simpler. While we think there are very good reasons to eat the way we do (see above), other people obviously reach different conclusions.

We expect to only feed Dylan the same foods that we eat. And why we eat as we do will be part of our family conversations. But as our little guy develops and has opportunities to explore other options, we won't discourage eating things that aren't on our family's menu.

Like we will with religion and politics and other manifestations of our values, we will guide our child to the best of our abilities. And we will try not to be too shocked when our teenager rebels by requesting ham for Christmas dinner!

One of Dylan's first exposures to legumes


Rachel said...

Actually, most teenagers or adults I know who were brought up vegetarian remain vegetarian. It's usually not on principal, though. They just think meat is too weird.

But I only know a handful. This is completely anecdotal.

He is so cute!!

Leigh said...

Great post! You may recall that I dabbled (and by dabbled I last just over 24 hours) :) with vegetarianism/veganism. So I think your reasons for shunning meat are totally great. I also like how you still eat seafood - when I was considering doing it, I thought to myself, well I can't give up my precious seafood! But it seemed easy to picture swapping out red meat or chicken or fish/shrimp, since I like fish & shrimp so much better anyway!

I am curious though, and since I'm sure you've done lots of research on the topic I'll ask - how do you plan on getting Dylan the protein, etc. that he needs that people will claim can only come from meat? I would guess with eggs and lots of beans? I'd love to read a post where you write about baby-vegetarian meal options!

Mary H. said...

I am also a vegetarian and had been for several years before becoming a mother. My husband is not (but respects my view and agrees that industrial treatment of animals is unacceptable for many reasons). Our daughter (almost 11) has never eaten meat in her life and has been mostly vegan for the last few years (mainly due to her lactose intolerance, which runs in my family). She has always been 90th or 95th percentile for height and weight and has clearly thrived on a vegetarian diet.

I never understand why some people question a vegetarian diet for children, but don't give the same scrutiny when the "typical American" diet including large amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, refined sugar, processed foods, salt, etc. is fed to children all over the country. By feeding our children a plant-based diet we are giving them a healthy start in life where they will have a lower risk of obesity and other health problems AND teaching them important lessons about ethics, compassion, environmental sustainability, and ecology.

Good for you! :)