An open let­ter …

On when your daugh­ter won’t eat meat

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­reed@gmail.com

Could I have a word, she asked. This was sev­eral years ago now, but still I can taste the dread that rushed to fill my mouth. My small daugh­ter’s teacher took me qui­etly aside. We’re hav­ing an is­sue, she said, and I wanted to make sure you were aware. My heart thumped un­com­fort­ably. The class is prac­tis­ing a song for assem­bly; you know the one, and she sang, “On top of spaghetti / All cov­ered with cheese.” Yes, I said, hum­ming awk­wardly along, un­sure where this was lead­ing. Well, the teacher said, when it comes to the bit about meat­balls, she just sits down and re­fuses to sing. Ap­par­ently she’s stag­ing a protest. Right, I said, re­lief and laugh­ter threat­en­ing to choke me. I’ll have a word.

My daugh­ter has been wag­ing a one-woman cam­paign since she was 5, the age at which my hus­band and I fi­nally re­lented and let her join us in say­ing no to meat. So far she has helped to con­vert her brother, two grand­moth­ers, and a cou­ple of friends. When we agreed that she didn’t have to eat spaghetti bolog­naise or but­ter chicken any more, I as­sumed she would, like me, be happy enough to con­sume the odd fil­let of fish, not too both­ered if the pota­toes had cooked along­side the roast chook. But her jour­ney to veg­e­tar­i­an­ism has been a bat­tle ev­ery step of the way.

Once she had pre­vailed on meat, fish was the next to go and, in truth, I did not fight her very hard. In­creas­ingly I, too, am un­com­fort­able with the flimsy dis­tinc­tion I make be­tween re­fus­ing to eat a pig and yet blithely bat­ter­ing the snap­per my hus­band catches. Cou­pled with the fact sci­en­tists can­not agree whether fish feel pain, but there is a strong pos­si­bil­ity they do, and the over­fish­ing of our seas, my pescatar­i­an­ism is start­ing to feel down­right ir­re­spon­si­ble.

Then it was gelatin. While I’ve long known marsh­mal­lows and gummy lol­lies are made pos­si­ble by ex­tract­ing col­la­gen from pork skins and cat­tle bones, I’ve turned a blind eye. I like their sug­ary tex­ture too much. My daugh­ter’s tooth is even sweeter than mine, and I as­sumed she would never give them up ei­ther. Again, though, she would prove me wrong with the courage of her con­vic­tions. Alerted to the pres­ence of an­i­mals in her pre­ferred treat by a teas­ing older brother, she did her re­search and made a de­ci­sion. No more, she de­clared. And, prob­a­bly be­cause I was an­noyed at her for punc­tur­ing my will­ful ig­no­rance, lu­di­crously I or­dered her in a loud and grumpy voice to, “Eat your lol­lies!” Find­ing my­self a few days later, how­ever, scrupu­lously check­ing the tubs of sour cream and yo­ghurt for traces of gelatin in the chilled aisle at the su­per­mar­ket, I was forced to chalk up another point to her. I knew ren­net lay just around the cor­ner, and, at least on this, have, for the mo­ment any­way, out-ma­noeu­vred her. On YouTube she re­cently dis­cov­ered most cheese is made from an en­zyme pro­duced in the stom­ach of ru­mi­nant mam­mals. Stand­ing in the kitchen when she came to me with this lat­est out­rage, I smugly showed her the pack­ets of haloumi, ched­dar and feta. Non-an­i­mal ren­net, see. It’s the only kind I buy now. Just you wait, I said to my hus­band, ve­g­an­ism is next on her agenda. Sure enough, last week she came home all fired up. Did you know, she said, that ev­ery bot­tle of milk you buy you’re ba­si­cally pay­ing for a calf to be killed? I sighed. Look, I said, un­til you are old enough to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the prepa­ra­tion of your own meals and your own nu­tri­tion, you will eat dairy and you will eat eggs. And to as­suage her guilt I told her how I only buy or­ganic eggs and dairy prod­ucts in the hope the farmer will have ad­hered to a stricter an­i­mal wel­fare code. Count your­self lucky, I said, to live in a house­hold with enough money to shop with a con­science. For now the up­per hand is mine. But the thing is, deep down, I sus­pect she’s right. One day in the not too dis­tant fu­ture I think we will look back upon our col­lec­tively car­niv­o­rous past and shud­der with re­vul­sion.

Count your­self lucky, I said, to live in a house­hold with enough money to shop with a con­science.

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