Monday, January 30, 2012

Mommy Mondays: "Eating Animals"

As parents, we sometimes have to make really big decisions on behalf of our kids.

Choosing what to name our children, whether or not to baptize (or circumcise!) them, what schools to send them to - these are decisions that we alone are responsible for. Perhaps because we're not always sure what the right thing is, we often follow the example of those who came before us: our own parents. But sometimes, we just have to go with our gut and hope our kids don't resent us for it some day.

For John and I, most of those big decisions were pretty easy. Jack was named after his dad; hence, Jack is the fifth John Jacob in the family (I know - yikes). John and I aren't religious, so there was no bris or baptism. And since both of us are vegetarians (aside from the fish John consumes once or twice a week), raising Jack as a vegetarian was a no-brainer, too.

Then he started eating solids, and we realized it wasn't as simple as we thought. I don't eat fish because I choose not to eat animals, but John is an endurance athlete. The fat, protein, and omega-3s found in fish can't really be replaced by supplements (although I'm sure some would argue they can). And for that reason, we decided to give Jack the occasional serving of fish sticks or salmon as well (not because he's an endurance athlete, obviously, but because he's growing what I hope will turn out to be a very healthy brain). Now, thanks to my mom passing on a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, called Eating Animals, I'm having to rethink that decision.

I became a vegetarian fifteen years ago because I decided I simply didn't want to eat animals anymore. My sister, Sarah, made the same decision (this came on the heels of a senior debate on animal testing), and we have both been vegetarians ever since. John was already a veggie when I met him, too, thanks to a trip to the slaughter house as a teenager. We stopped eating meat because we love animals, not for our health, or the environment, or because it's kind of gross. Over time, however, those additional factors have made it very easy for me to continue living a meatless life. I've read several books on the subject, including Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, Dominion by Matthew Scully, and, on a related note, Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation. I didn't expect Eating Animals to provide me with any new information or change my mind about anything, but perhaps because he writes fiction and can affect his readers on a more personal level, Foer did just that.

I'm not going to go into all the gory details. If you want those, I highly recommend you read the book. But I am going to leave you with a little food for thought:

"Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change."

"On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime."

"Nearly one-third of the land surface of the planet is dedicated to livestock."

"It shouldn't be the consumer's responsibility to figure out what's cruel and what's kind, what's environmentally destructive and what's sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal. We don't need the option of buying children's toys made with lead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don't need the option of buying factory-farmed animals."

As for Jack, I will continue to raise him as a vegetarian with the occasional fish in his diet; I'm hoping to limit it to sustainable fish if nothing else (Foer talks briefly about the commercial fishing industry, which is pretty horrific). We buy our dairy products from a local farm - South Mountain Creamery - which I highly recommend.  When the inevitable day comes when Jack realizes the "chicken" we feed him isn't really chicken, or he asks why his friend can have a hamburger and he can't, I'll be able to explain in concrete terms why we don't eat meat.

And of all the decisions I've made on his behalf, I'll know that this one, at least, was the right one.


Mandy said...

Mara, I can't believe it was your debate against Aaron and I that turned you off meat forever! We will see if I have that much influence on my own children. Good luck with your next local, I hope you get somewhere you are happy to be living.

Mara Rae said...

Hi Mandy! Well, I should say the debate was kind of the clincher. We were already well on our way to being veggie at that point, but some of the stuff we saw online was pretty gruesome, even then. I'd be too afraid to even Google it these days! And thank you re: the Foreign Service!