So apparently this new Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action children’s book by Ruby Roth, a follow-up to her That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, is pushing omnivores to the brink. The book prompted guests on the Today show (in a segment entitled “Extreme Parenting”) to say that its frank info and images—about where meat really comes from, and about how zoos and aquariums also promote animal cruelty—are not suitable for children because they’re just too damn scary. (“If it’s too scary to talk about, the reality of where those pieces of meat come from, then it’s certainly too scary to eat,” Roth shot back beautifully.) And it inspired a blog post on Jezebel that worried aloud about all sorts issues, referring both to Matt Lauer on Today and to Roth’s vegan stepdaughter, Akira:
But, as Matt Lauer mentioned later in the segment, when you send the message “vegan is love,” do you also send the message that “eating meat is hate”? And how does that affect a child’s budding relationships? Surely no one could argue that you shouldn’t educate a kid and teach compassion, even when it comes to food choices. But what about tolerance and acceptance of the choices of others? Even if your moral compass is very tightly wound, and you believe that meat is murder, should you let a kid decide for herself? Is little Akira existing in a world where she believes her teacher and classmates are cruel killers?
Sorry, Jezebel (of which I’m usually a fan), but since when does teaching a philosophy or set of morals automatically denounce those with other points of view? The best parallel I can think of here is that of religion—something everyone in our society, from atheist to bible beater, seems to grasp on some level. So: If someone raises their child Jewish, is it simultaneously teaching that those of Christian or Muslim or Hindu faiths are fools to be avoided? Is a Bat Mitzvah just a recipe for disaster when it comes to the idea of that child’s “budding relationships”?
And as far as letting a kid decide for herself about whether to eat animals or not, that just doesn’t make much sense to me. Veganism is just another philosophy, a set of strongly-held beliefs. Just as an adherent of one religion is most likely not going to raise their child to be another, why would a vegan buy and prepare meat for his or her kid, rather than educating that kid about animal cruelty and the meat industry? Jezebel makes the point that “Surely no one could argue that you shouldn’t educate a kid and teach compassion, even when it comes to food choices.” So how else to do it if not with the hard-to-swallow truth?
Now I’ve NOT read the book yet, so I can’t comment specifically about the images that folks are calling scary. And while I don’t think that 3 1/2 (the age of my Lula) is a good time to be introducing pictures of tortured animals, I do think it’s a fine time to wade into the topic organically. Last month, we took a family trip upstate to a couple of animal sanctuaries, where we snuggled with pigs, fed cows, hugged sheep and adored chickens. Lula was in heaven. Now, whenever the idea of eating bacon, beef, lamb or poultry comes up, I’ll have an experience to remind her of, and which I can use for some explaining.
Will I simultaneously be teaching her that her friends and extended family members are evil? It certainly won’t be my intent. And if and when she asks about it, I’ll take the same tack I’ll take whenever she decides to ask about why she has two mommies or can’t wear nail polish or watch some crappy Nickelodeon show like her friends do: That everybody’s different. And different people do things different ways.