Saturday, March 23, 2013

When Do You Talk To Your Toddler About The Meat On Their Plate?

How do you explain to your kid -- today, or one day -- that the meat on their plate are the animals we sing about and have in our fish tanks?  I am not a vegetarian or vegan, though via my guilt I wish I were.  Curly Girl eats meat as well.  I try not to think about it.  But today it came to a focus for me. And I am feeling very conflicted today.

We went to a Kid's Trout Fishing Day. A local stream was stocked with trout from a hatchery nearby for the event.  You just show up with your kid and you are handed a rod, reel and a nice bag to hold the fish you catch.  I stupidly had images of Andy and Opie on a path from their creek having wholesome bonding time.

My Daddy fished in the Atlantic and the Gulf once or twice a year with his company, always bringing the fish home in a Styrofoam cooler. My mom would gripe about the smell, but he was always so proud! I caught one fish in my youth in a lake near the nuclear reactor plants in Oak Ridge,Tennessee.  God only knows what mutation juice is in that water. When Daddy helped me get that fish up on the bank, I swear on my mother's grave, that non-fish stood up on his little fins and  politely walked right back into that water. I'll never forgot that mutant.

While planning this fishing trip Curly Girl's Grandpa and Daddy were recalling memories of fishing in Missouri with their elders. This is a family legacy, and Curly Girl's Daddy is serious about it and good at it.  I personally watched him reel in a 30 pound Wahoo on a boat in Barbados and nearly pass out on the deck from the fight he just won.  I asked him what would happen if we actually caught one with Curly Girl, and he said he would throw it back.  I was all good with that. I assumed that's what anyone would do at a kid's event.

We found a spot and Curly Girl's Daddy put the bait (corn kernels) on the hook and sunk it, and gave it to Curly Girl, who held the rod for approximately 5 seconds.

And then she was done.  So she and I hung out. My job was mainly trying not to let her fall into the water.

Then the carnage happened. The guy next to us caught a fish. Once that big trout was up on the ground and flailing, the guy announced he would 'put him out of his suffering', and then proceeded to beat the fish's head against a rock. Not once, not twice...I don't know how many times you need to hit a fish on a rock to knock him  out, but this guy went overboard.  I turned away, put my hand to my ears to stop hearing the sound, and even Curly Girl's Daddy admitted he had to turn away from it.  It was horrible.

It was the only 30 seconds of the entire day Curly Girl was completely still, watching the homicide.

It bothered me, but she didn't understand it.  She won't remember it, I pray.  But what happens the day she figures out that when you pull a fish out of a stream for fun that he dies and lands on your dinner plate?  What about those animals she loves at the petting zoo?  Hell, let's talk E-I-E-I-O?

So I asked for advice.  I was told by several friends to eat less meat to prepare for the day she questions.  Good advice.  I'll take it.  I was told to let it happen naturally, have a carnivore/herbivore discussion of the food chain, and not to direct but inform her when the time comes.  I agree with that too.  Many of my friends have vegetarian and vegan kids who made their own decisions early on.  I'd be down with that.  I was told by a vegetarian friend that her child had never eaten meat, but she was preparing for the discussion as well, and would let him decide. One person told me to be honest and open and to prepare Curly Girl in advance.  Put it in her head now.  She told me that when her daughter began eating real food they simply sang one of the songs Phoebe from Friends sang at a gig at Central Perk:

The Cow in the Meadow

Oh, the cow in the meadow goes moo,
Oh, the cow in the meadow goes moo.
Then the farmer hits him on the head and grinds him up,
And that's how we get hamburgers.
Now, chickens! 

I would LOVE suggestions and thoughts on this issue!  Please comment.

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