I started reading a book on Sunday night that I am pretty excited about: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I saw it recently in a bookstore and the title intrigued me enough to pick it up, but when I read the description on the inside cover, it really hooked me—
“Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood-facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf- his causal questioning took on an urgency…”
I’ve mentioned my vegetarianism before. I’m not a veggie proselytizer, I’m not out to recruit people, and you won’t see me chaining myself to a slaughterhouse door, but my own vegetarianism is important to me. The more I hear about the factory farming process in documentaries like Food, Inc, and when I read about potential health issues from some types of meat consumption, it makes me feel more confident in my dietary choices.
I’ve also mentioned before that P is an avowed chicken lover. Of course, I’d be happy (and probably his veggie mother would too) to have him phase meat out of his diet, but I also don’t expect him to give up something he truly, honestly loves. P has toyed with the idea of making the switch, but I don’t think it will ever happen. I’ve been told on many occasions that my veg momos don’t hold a candle to the chicken or pork momos my other friends voraciously consume, and I can see the excited glint in P’s eye when there is a nice goat curry or a packet of deer jerky around.
So that brings us to the discussion of how to raise children when and if we have some one day. I’ve already made my feelings on the subject known. I’d very much prefer to raise vegetarian kids, and once they are older (middle school/high school aged) they can decide for themselves, and I’ll happily live with their decision. P, on the other hand, though less vocal, has stated that he would prefer to raise kids that enjoyed chicken momo, etc. There isn’t a whole lot that P and I don’t agree on, but this is one.
Other friends have weighed in on the argument—“If you raise them veg, then they will probably not like meat anyway… you’ll be influencing them from the start! That’s not fair to them!” but I kind of feel the same way, if you start them off eating meat, what if they never think about life without meat? Or what if they decide later in life to be veg and they are uncomfortable with having grown up eating meat and they question me as their parent for not sticking up for them? What if they are angry that I denied them the pleasure of meat as a child? Since my own vegetarianism is so important to me, how can I morally let them eat meat when they are too young to make the decision for themselves?
That is what intrigued me so much about Foer’s book. I’m very keen to see what conclusion he comes to. It’s been quite interesting thus far, even though I’ve only just started.
One issue he raised which I had never really thought about before is food as a storytelling device. In his introduction he talks about his grandmother who survived World War II as a Jewish girl evading the Nazis by keeping on the run and eating whatever scraps of food she could find along the way. This personal history greatly affected her relationship with food. Her signature dish was chicken with carrots, and she would serve Foer and his brother this dish while telling stories over the dinner table. He says,
“Feeding my child is not like feeding myself: it matters more. It matters because food matters (his physical health matters, the pleasure of eating matters), and because the stories that are served with food matter. These stories bind our family together, and bind our family to others. Stories about food are stories about us—our history and our values. Within my family’s Jewish tradition, I came to learn that food serves two parallel purposes: it nourishes and it helps you remember. Eating and storytelling are inseparable…”
and later notes,
“We are not only the tellers of our stories, we are the stories themselves. If my wife and I raise our son as a vegetarian, he will not eat his great-grandmother’s singular dish, will never receive that unique and most direct expression of her love, will perhaps never think of her as the Greatest Chef Who Ever Lived. Her primal story, our family’s primal story, will have changed.”
Wow, food for thought (no pun intended).
I’ll have to let you know what I think once I finish the book.