The acceptability of raising vegetarians
By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor
I’ve been a vegetarian for almost a year now, and something I’ve considered during that time—as scientists have warned that food shortages could force the world towards vegetarianism, and as pig meat shortages have threatened the world’s bacon reserves—is the ethicality of raising children as vegetarians. While I take it for granted that raising mini vegetarians and vegans is perfectly acceptable, others I’ve discussed this with see it as a form of deprivation. These accusations of meat-withholding probably have more to do with an infatuation with bacon, burgers, and all things beefy, but it does bring up an interesting question about the extent to which our beliefs should limit those around us—especially if those around us are helpless little tots who really just want a pork chop.
Obviously I’m slightly biased since I’ve already abandoned meats for eats, but there’s a serious discussion to be had about the sustainability of raising omnivores. Some scientists have suggested that the world is headed for vegetarianism because the industrialized food system can’t support mass production of meat with rapidly disappearing resources. We’re also directing food, like corn, that could feed people towards animals that could easily eat grass. In addition, it’s environmentally unsustainable to invest tons upon tons of water in animals being raised for slaughter—not to mention the energy expended raising, killing, and transporting these animals. I’m purposely avoiding a drawn-out discussion on animal sentience, but I will say I think most creatures are adorable, and I’m not big on sticking a fork in them or otherwise harming them.
So, personally, I think it’s more sustainable to at the very least limit meat consumption. Nonetheless, it’s easy to make the argument that, while having those beliefs and putting them to action is all well and good, you can’t force other people to adopt your beliefs. Try to convert them all you want, but imposing your morality or lifestyle on others is just that—an imposition.
While I’m against pushing anything on anyone, I think presenting information like this is a wholly different matter. Particularly in the case of raising kids, it’s like teaching your child that it’s wrong to bully other kids. You explain to them that it’s wrong because it’s hurtful and you shouldn’t be mean to people. It’s as simple as that.
A lot of people, myself included, might wonder whether it’s right to deprive children of the joys of hamburgers and hotdogs. But hamburgers and hotdogs aren’t necessarily the healthiest things to eat, and there are other delightful foods out there. If you walk a child to school in the morning rather than driving them, technically you’re depriving them of the comfort of a car ride. Because it’s healthier to walk, that “deprivation” is justifiable. You don’t parent based on the idea that you shouldn’t deprive your child of certain things, you parent based on your own morality and lifestyle.
The other aspect of imposing a lifestyle on a child is that every decision you make in raising your child imposes a certain lifestyle on them; you just have to decide what is more socially and morally responsible. You could say that, by encouraging your child to be omnivorous, you’re imposing a meat-eating lifestyle on your child, or that any religious family is imposing religion on their children. I’m all for allowing kids to make decisions for themselves, especially with regards to their beliefs; after a certain point, though, you have to stop worrying about influencing the kid too much and just realize that no matter what you do, you’re going to encourage them in a certain direction. It’s just a matter of whether you make it clear that it’s ok for them to make their own decisions—even if that means your little vegetarian grows up to be a big ol’ carnivore that rivals a tyrannosaurus rex.
Of course, you have to make sure you’re raising the kid healthfully and that they’re getting enough protein in their diet, but that’s really easily accomplished. Many adults manage to be vegetarians without dying, and some religions restrict the consumption of meat—if you research alternative sources of protein, it’s easy enough to give up meat and still be healthy. In the end, you have to decide for yourself if you want to limit your own lifestyle, and that’s definitely a personal decision. If you’re choosing a specific lifestyle because you genuinely believe it’s right, whether that’s a religion, a dietary choice, or anything else, it will please you to know that others are influenced to see things your way.