12 December 2003

Harming Your Children by Feeding Them Animal Flesh

Suppose you're a vegetarian for health, and perhaps also for moral, reasons. Suppose your spouse is not a vegetarian. You tolerate each other's diets. Now suppose you have children. Your spouse believes that children need meat in their diets in order to be healthy and strong. You disagree. Indeed, you believe that animal products increase the risk of various diseases, so in your view the meat-based diet is harming (i.e., setting back the interests of) your children. Each of you wants what's best for your children, obviously, but you disagree about what's best.

It may seem that this is a silly dispute. Consult the facts about meat-based diets for children and act accordingly. But it's not that simple. The facts may not be clear, first of all; or the parent who wishes to feed the children animal flesh may believe that the studies are not reliable (they may seem to be "advocacy science"); or the parent may wish to err on the side of caution, reasoning that many meat-eaters have lived long, healthy lives, whereas it's not clear what the long-term effects of a vegetarian diet are.

Family life is difficult enough as it is, but fighting about the diet of one's children can seem more trouble than it's worth. I had a friend who gave up—who allowed his wife to feed meat to their children. I chastised him for it, but only mildly, for it seemed to intrude on a personal matter. Okay, it did intrude on a personal matter. He said that his daughter didn't like meat and that he hoped she would refuse to eat it. His strategy was hope, which is, of course, no strategy at all. I have no children of my own, so I can't speak with any authority about what it's like to balance love, concern, and respect. After all, the children are your spouse's, too. (Wasn't it simpler when men made all the decisions?)

I'm not making an argument. I'm thinking aloud. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to handle a situation such as this? I may yet have children (I know: poor kids), so I want to be prepared.