Family mealtimes are not the same in our house since a little person asked a big question.
“Mum? Am I eating an animal?”
This is what my daughter, Matilda, started asking at the dinner table a few weeks ago.
Matilda was four-years-old. She is now five (BIG difference, everyone).
Anyone with small children knows that they bring all of the questions, all the time.
In fact, young people, if you want mealtimes to remain peaceful and uninterrupted by life’s big questions, keep taking your contraception.
“And are YOU eating an animal?”
After we have established that yes, every individual around the table was indeed eating an animal, guess what?
She didn’t let it lie.
Matilda: “What kind of animal is it?”
Me: “It’s a moo-c… it’s a cow.”
M: “Is it dead?”
Me: “I really hope so.”
M: “How did it die?”
Me: “Um. I think it got shot. Sorry, NO, I remember now, it just went to sleep.”
M: “Did it hurt?”
Me: “Definitely not.”
M: “It didn’t hurt but it DIED?!” *Disbelieving look*. “Why didn’t it just run away?”
Me: “Um, because it was… it was… in prison.”
M: “That’s just horrible. Why do people eat animals?”
Now, my daughter has barely eaten any meat or fish in three weeks.
That’s it. My five-year-old, just-started-school girl is a wildlife warrior, a friend to the animals.
Every plate within her vision gets an accusatory finger and a disdainful glare, “What animal is THAT?”
Okay, so it could be argued that I didn’t answer her questions very well, and that I told a few porkies (pun intended), but any parent will tell you that kids never ask questions at a time when your are feeling informed and perfectly prepared. And none of these questions have neat, easy answers.
More on vegetarians: 9 questions about vegetarianism, answered by a very mellow vego.
My partner and I spend a lot of time reading books about animals to our kids. In those books, the animals talk, and have personalities, emotions and interior lives. They have adventures, and human friends, and families who love them.
And then we expect them eat the animals, without question.
Every parent knows that moment when your child makes the connection between Peppa Pig and sausage-sandwich pig. It’s a moment when a tiny bit of innocence is lost from their world.
Now, I have no problem with my child becoming a vegetarian – apart from, how it’s already almost IMPOSSIBLE to get your children to eat vegetables, so them not eating much else raises the difficulty level of dinner time considerably – I just don’t think I expected my daughter to have such strong opinions about things so young. Like, you know, a real person.