Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Elementary Vegan

The other day my eight-year old daughter told me she had become a vegetarian.

A vegetarian? Oh, the betrayal. What hath my sins wrought? She comes from a long line of devout carnivores, what have I done to make God so angry?

She might as well have told me that she had just enlisted in the Symbionese Liberation Army. It was a skewer to the heart, a gut shot. I felt exactly how Ronald Regan must have felt when his daughter told him that she was a democrat.

In a flash I saw my precious little daughter as a future member of PETA, splashing paint on her mother’s fur coats, protesting on the streets dressed in nothing more than leopard-skin body paint, and driving around in a broken down Volkswagen van. In an instant she traded in her frilly dresses and pigtails to become a holistic healer in dirty jeans and dreadlocks.

I did what any carnivorously supportive father would do and said, “That’s great, honey.”

For a moment I thought about throwing the yes-but-Hitler-was-a-vegetarian jab, but my eight-year old has no idea who Hitler was. Then I started thinking about Paul McCartney. He’s a vegetarian. He’s done O.K. for himself. Maybe this isn’t the end of the world.

Her four-year old little brother is nearly a vegetarian by accident. He almost exclusively eats yogurt, bananas, and snack crackers. His eating patterns have never bothered me. Maybe it’s the label.

Later that day I asked, “But sweetie, your favorite food is cheeseburgers. Vegetarians don’t get to eat cheeseburgers.”

“I know,” she said, and that was that.

I began to think of my family’s future. No more bacon in the morning. No more ham and cheese sandwiches on Saturday afternoons. Thanksgiving is coming. Would I have to cook a tofu turkey to go along with the roasted turkey? And what about summer? When cooking steaks on the grill will my daughter ask for soy burgers and veggie dogs?

Two days later, I noticed her eating chicken strips. “I thought you were a vegetarian,” I said.

“I am a modified vegetarian.”

“What is that?”

“The only meat I eat is fish or chicken.”

“I don’t think Paul McCartney gets to eat chicken strips, sweetie. Anyway, I thought the whole vegetarian thing was about not eating anything with a face.”

“Yes, but fish and chickens have ugly faces.”

I see. We only eat the ugly animals. You are THAT type of vegetarian. A glimmer of hope emerged. Now, with the aforementioned and ugly-faced fish and chicken back in the diet, I thought I would take a shot at the potential future inclusion of cows and pigs.

Looking forward to a weekend cookout in the backyard, I spent the next few days trying to point out how unsightly cows are. “Look at that Holstein, honey. Don’t you think that’s about the ugliest animal you’ve ever seen?” I searched for a rodeo on television, figuring that seeing bulls violently buck poor defenseless cowboys would conjure up visions of ribeyes and t-bones, but there was nothing on but SpongeBob reruns and NASCAR.

Next I looked for a video of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, hoping that the sight of mad and charging bulls chasing thousands of panicked Spaniards down the street would warrant, at least, a cheeseburger. To no avail.

Next on my agenda were pigs. I love bacon and sausage, and she used to. I knew that Wilbur the pig from the book Charlotte’s Web was going to be my biggest obstacle, so I rummaged through all of her shelves looking for books with ugly and mean pigs in them. Did you know that it is almost impossible to find a children‘s book with an evil pig in it? All of the pigs in fairytales are innocent victims who get their houses blown down and lay around sleeping all the time.

“Look here, sweetie, Jack Spratt’s wife ate nothing but fat. Do you think that was pig fat or beef fat?”

“Eating fat is gross,” she said.

A slight miscalculation on my part, but I recovered with: “Yes, but it’s the ‘lean’ that’s so tasty, especially with a baked potato.”

She didn’t budge. She obviously inherited her mother’s will.

Feeling defeated, I left the subject alone, choosing to let sleeping pigs lie. Eventually I came to the realization that she might be healthier in the long run if she never again ate meat.

And then, just as quickly as it came, it went away. One day she was watching her brother eat a cheeseburger (in between bites of yogurt and bananas) and asked for a bite.

I will have to admit that I was actually a little disappointed. My daughter’s two week bout with vegetarianism had added a worldly sophistication— along with a streak of thoughtful independence— to her personality. I was growing accustomed to it.

I sort of miss my little vegan and her independent thinking. Maybe I’ll cook a tofu turkey for Thanksgiving after all… Nah

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