I thought I’d write a blog post about how my vocabulary around autism has changed since I first started blogging and why I no longer use certain terms or have started using new ones. So, I had a look back over my oldest posts.
And I came across this post. Only the fifth one I wrote. Back before my blog was largely about autism, back before Tyger had a diagnosis and before I even suspected Bear or I might be autistic. It’s a post I had intended to be about vegetarianism and the ethics of bringing up the cubs veggie but it ended up being my first post about autism.
I never did get round to writing that post about vegetarianism so today I’m doing the opposite of that early post and am turning a post that was going to be about autism into one about bringing up the cubs not to eat meat.
I have been vegetarian all my life. My parents both gave up meat around a similar time and brought me and my brother and sisters up not to eat meat. Wolf ate meat when we first started going out and decided to become vegetarian about eight years ago, which meant when we had children it seemed obvious we would bring them up as vegetarians, too.
Well, it seemed obvious to us, anyway, but some people are genuinely shocked by the thought of us ‘making that decision for them’.
Honestly, some people seem to see it as akin to denying the cubs access to sunlight or human interaction. It’s bizarre.
Wolf and I don’t eat meat because we think the farming, suffering and slaughtering of animals purely for non-essential food is unethical. This blog post is absolutely not designed to convince anyone else to turn to vegetarianism so I won’t go into more detail than that but I think it’s important to establish that fact in order to explain why we are raising Tyger and Bear not to eat meat.
It’s relevant because one of the responses I’ve had to people learning the cubs are veggie is along the lines of, ‘Well, I don’t like sweetcorn/spinach/tuna but I still give it to my child.’
I have lots of food issues because of my autistic sensory needs and – as much as I hate it – I’m a very fussy eater as a result. I still gave the cubs tomatoes to eat when I was weaning them, still chopped up sticks of pepper, still added onion to meals I made them. Neither of the cubs will actually eat any of those foods now but it was not for lack of trying on my end. I even gave Tyger a banana every day when I was pregnant with Bear even though I had a huge aversion to the smell and texture of bananas when I was pregnant. He liked them (and thankfully still does) so my own disgust…and retching were irrelevant.
It’s not simply that I’m not that keen on meat. It’s not just that I prefer the taste of halloumi over bacon (actually, despite the internet loving bacon almost as much as cats and porn I have no idea what it tastes like). I have a fundamental ethical problem with it.
Besides, I seriously doubt any other parents are feeding their kids every single food that’s available. I imagine we all tend to buy in the things we like and are used to eating. Sometimes that might mean a parent doesn’t ever give their kid celery because they wouldn’t think to buy it but often it means parents in the west don’t feed their children insects or other creepy crawlies, which is a normal part of people’s diet in some countries. I don’t think the lack of Cambodian fried spider will do their children any harm.
Some people have more sensible concerns for the cubs; whether their health will be negatively impacted comes up a lot. Bizarrely, a lack of protein seems to be the main cause for worry. I don’t know why. There’s protein in everything and I certainly haven’t ever come across anyone who’s been diagnosed with a protein deficiency. Gladiators (the ones in ancient Rome, not the ones from the 90’s TV show) were actually vegan yet Wolf (who works out a lot) is constantly asked how he manages to maintain big muscles despite his supposedly protein-poor diet.
It’s true that there are a few areas where vegetarians can potentially become deficient if they don’t know much about nutrition and are limited in what they’ll eat (iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D spring to mind) but the same can really be said of any diet.
A less thought-out criticism is when I have been accused of ‘imposing my views’ on the cubs.
Of course I do! I impose my views on them every single day. I impose my views on violence every time I tell them off for hitting/kicking/scratching, as well. Should I stop doing that?
The thing is, they can always try meat once they’re old enough to understand where it comes from if they so wish (I know it can cause a little bit of stomach upset to suddenly eat a load of meat when your body’s not used to it but not being able to immediately eat steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day doesn’t seem like that big a problem – gradual introduction isn’t exactly difficult). Whilst they’re young, though, Wolf and I make their moral decisions for them.
At Christmas there were a couple of children Tyger didn’t want to give cards to. As the adult, I vetoed that decision and told him if he was writing cards to most of his class then he had to include all of them because it would be unfair and hurtful to leave out two children. These are the sorts of decisions parents make because young children are not yet capable of fully considering ethical questions.
My parents brought me and my siblings up vegetarian. So far we’ve all decided to carry on avoiding meat (in fact, one sister has decided she finds the dairy industry unethical, too, and has subsequently cut out all dairy on top of meat) but the option was always there to take on an omnivorous diet.
I would have been really upset with my parents if – after deciding they didn’t agree with animals being killed for food – they still gave me meat. It’s different if one or both parents eat meat but with both my parents being vegetarian, I would have felt very betrayed had they fed me something they considered unethical.
I suspect Tyger would be much the same. He’s already pretty vehement when it comes to conversations about meat and is quite outraged by the whole prospect. I dread to think how he’d feel if we had conversations where I explained why I didn’t eat other animals and he realised he did.
Most parents do what they think is best for their children. Most parents also constantly question themselves over whether they really are doing what’s best. This is one area where I actually feel strongly I’m doing the right thing; it seems strange to me others are so sure I’m doing something wrong.