A few weeks ago, some very good friends of ours told me they had heard a “rumor” about our youngest daughter, Margaret. Their daughter and our Margaret are fast friends, and seem to do virtually everything together. So, when they said they had heard something about Margaret…I knew exactly who the source was. I was also prepared to hear something that didn’t surprise me.
The rumor did surprise me…so much so that I burst out laughing. Apparently, my youngest daughter was a vegetarian and I didn’t know it! I laughed it off, shaking my head at our girls and their wonderful imaginations.
A few nights later, I noticed Margaret taking only potatoes, onions and peppers during dinner, and skipping the kielbasa. “Are you… a vegetarian?” I asked, cautiously. She looked at me sheepishly, as if caught in a lie. “Yes?” was her response. She looked so apologetic; I immediately felt a pang of guilt. “That’s ok,” I told her. “You can be a vegetarian!”
I had so many questions. When did she decide this? What made her decide not to eat meat? Why didn’t she talk to her parents about it? Please understand; our Margaret had always been a voracious carnivore—more so than the rest of the family. After finishing her own, she would steal half-eaten chicken wings or legs from our dinner plates and clean them completely. If we had steaks or pork chops, she would always take the biggest piece. And she never shied away from gnawing on bone, fat, or rare-cooked meat. So, when this revelation came to light, it really was a 180° in her (albeit short) lifetime of behavior and tastes.
A caveat: I realize this is a sensitive subject. I personally know farmers that rail against “Meatless Mondays”. I’ve met vegans that believe animal agriculture is an abomination. I’m wading into turbulent waters here…but please bear with me.
As a farm kid, Margaret knows better than most where meat comes from. She has witnessed her parents processing chickens and the harvesting of goats and sheep. Maybe she couldn’t put the relationship between life and nourishment into words, per se, but she had always at least intrinsically understood where meat comes from. At the end of the day, the protein that we consume had to die. There’s really no two ways about it. And I think the vast majority of people that enjoy meat don’t want to think about it—at all. I understand.
Call it a phase or not, Margaret has always loved animals. She loves our sheep, our goats, our dogs, our cats, even our chickens. She loves the neighbors’ cows; she loves the other neighbor’s horses. She can be virtually inconsolable when one of our long-term residents dies of old age, which has certainly happened on occasion. Margaret would be happiest if our farm had all these animals as pets, and none of them ever died, or were sold, or were eaten…a child’s Shangri-La if there ever was one. The temptation for me to write off her 12-year-old feelings as naïve is strong, I admit.
However, I meant it when I told her it was ok to be vegetarian. Of course it is! She is old enough to make lots of choices for herself. As a parent, I’m here to help guide her, and to make sure she gets a balanced diet. But I want her to know that she is her own person, after all. I want her to grow to be an amazing, caring, thoughtful, and contributing adult. And part of that is discussing ALL of this—to better stand by our own choices, to better comprehend when others feel differently, and to somehow manage a civil conversation along the way.
This experience has reminded me of the first time I was pressed to defend my chosen profession by a vegetarian who felt I was very much in the wrong. Even talking about it in this fashion may make some people angry. But as a farmer, as someone who is driven to feed people, I feel these are choices every individual must make for themselves. I support you whether you are vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, carnivore, or omnivore. And I confess, it does seem odd that although I profess to love my animals (which I do), I can manage to eat them anyway. I think it is difficult for most people to wrap their brains around such a concept. And maybe I’m still working it out for myself.
All I can say is this: I am PART of the food chain, not apart from it. I am animal, and will return to the earth someday to be consumed by worms. My German genes and my 47-year-old habits make me crave certain sources of protein. However, I’m also willing to eat more rice and beans; I can trade eggs, dairy and nuts for some of that meat. They’re all raised by farmers! And as someone who has never seen our Earth’s resources as boundless, I imagine there may eventually come a day that our growing world population causes a major shift in food production. If that is the case, our diets will evolve…which is actually nothing new at all if you think about it!