As a young child, I ate what the rest of my family ate which included meat. I didn’t love meat, but I ate as my family ate; until one day when I was told what meat really was and from that point on, I began growing vegetarian in a meat-eating family.
Some kids go through a shock phase when they realize meat is animal muscle, and most just shrug it off and go on eating it. Other kids may be slow to revisit eating meat once they know, and then there are kids like me who struggled to push meat into their mouths after finding out how it got to the table.
Why I Became Vegetarian
I can tell you the exact moment I fully realized what meat was and where it came from. I was in fifth grade and we had friends over to the house. We were having ground beef tacos and I casually asked what meat was to no one in particular.
My mom’s friend looked at me incredulously. “Why it’s animal muscle,” she said with a nod of her head.
My mother looked up from her mixing bowl on the counter and sharply said, “Don’t tell her that!” She gave her friend the look.
I shrugged because I didn’t know what else to do. They thought I was fine with it.
But, I wasn’t fine.
As a child, from that point on, eating meat was a giant struggle for me. My feeling was that if I ate the animal’s muscle, I was stealing from it. I didn’t want to steal its life, I loved animals too much to do that.
The other contributing factor to my emerging vegetarianism was my issues with the texture of meat, especially pork and even ground beef.
I attempted, very poorly, to eat meat for the next three years, but became a full vegetarian in eighth grade. It was a slow progression for me and pork was the first to go, beef next, then chicken, then turkey, and lastly, I gave up fish.
My Journey Growing Vegetarian in a Meat Eating Family
It was not easy being a child vegetarian in a meat-eating family. My dad would ask me at every dinner meal for many years if I wanted the meat. He couldn’t accept my vegetarianism.
He continued to pass the meat platter to me, but I always declined it!
My mother on the other hand reluctantly accepted my meatless diet, but as a mom and a nurse, she struggled with fears that I would not get enough protein.
My mother would frequently voice her concerns about what to make for me. I had committed her to the mom life sentence of a short-order cook with my dietary change, so I bought her a skinny paperback vegetarian cookbook. I was so proud of my plan because I knew it would relieve some stress for her by giving her some ideas of what to make for me.
Dairy products were my savior as a child. I felt they were okay to eat because they weren’t a part of the animal, but a by-product. I was ok with that so I became a full-fledged lacto-ovo vegetarian by consuming dairy products.
My dad was always bothered by my second glass of milk at dinner and I always heard my mom shush him as I headed to the fridge to fill up my cup mid-meal. She knew I needed protein and she didn’t want me to be malnourished, so she encouraged my milk drinking.
It was hard for me as a child to eat something different than everyone else around me. I grew up in the Midwest where our town was surrounded by farms. Not eating meat was a huge culture deviation, and I was the unlucky deviant having to explain myself to everyone around me. It was unheard of to not take the meat as most people viewed it as the only important part of the meal and the rest was fluff.
The fluff was exactly what I wanted of the meal; I wanted the vegetables, the bread, the nuts, the fruit, the eggs, and the cheese. I didn’t like the texture of tofu so that was not an option for me, plus I didn’t love beans. They weren’t the right texture for me either.
Going out to eat was a challenge and going to parties was difficult too because meat consumption was integral to the community. We all talk about what we will eat and when we will eat it. Food is mega important to all cultures and unfortunately, I was the outcast in my childhood food culture, and a voluntary one at that.
Everyone seemed obsessed with what I would eat all the time. It was a constant topic of conversation that seemed unnecessary to me and I didn’t like the limelight. No one ever made a big deal about someone not eating the lettuce or potato salad, but my not eating the burger at grilling parties, well, that needed to be talked about, commented on, and sometimes even ridiculed.
As a child, I never judged the meat-eaters, so I constantly wondered why they judged me.
Being treated that way taught me not to judge others and to respect that everyone has the right to make their own choices. I developed a deep respect for freedom of choice which also taught me tolerance.
My mother never forced me to eat meat, which I was always thankful for, so I’ve come to parent my own children the same way. I let them choose and offer healthy alternatives if they don’t want a part of the meal.
As an adult, I’m still the one who is different because most people in my region do eat meat. However, I’ve learned so many ways to compensate, modify, and survive that it has become normal to me to be different.
Mine is not a deviant way of life; it is my norm.
Are you are vegetarian? What are your struggles?
About my cookbook:
I married a man who eats meat and my children eat meat, so I began making recipes I call hybrid recipes where there is a meatless and a meat-containing portion to the meal to feed us all from one recipe. It’s easy, it’s just a matter of being mindful while cooking.
I began to realize there are more families like mine out in the world who are composed of members with different diets. This brought me to create my cookbook to help families like mine who are composed of vegetarians and meat-eaters. I also wrote the book to help parents of children who either are vegetarian or who are considering vegetarianism. I sincerely hope my book helps families have more enjoyable and smoother meals together.