Friday, May 8, 2009

Kentucky Fried What Now?

Not far from our house, on University Avenue in Saint Paul, sits a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Anna and I were sitting at the stop light yesterday and she pointed to it and asked what it was.

"You mean the red and white building?" I asked, hoping she would say no. She said yes.

I stammered for quite some time, not sure what to say. How do I answer her? Do I tell her it's Kentucky Fried Chicken? Because she's an inquisitive little girl and she might ask what fried chicken means. Am I ready to explain to her that people eat animals?

Sure, she sees people eating parts of chickens at family gatherings and certain restaurants. Yes, she knows more omnivores than vegans and has been visually exposed to all of the most common non-vegan foods. But there's an abstractness to it all. When she asks "what's that" and points to a hot dog her cousin is eating, I just calmly tell her, "it's not vegan .... but we have some great vegan stuff for you right here!"

I'm exploiting the abstract nature of language and I fear the day when it no longer does the trick for her.

"It's a restaurant," I finally said, "but we don't eat there because they don't have anything that's vegan."

And just like that, the conversation was over. No follow up questions were asked. No desire to eat there was expressed.

This happened on our way to Izzy's, an ice cream parlor in Saint Paul. They always have a couple vegan options of soy cream and/or sorbet. Before we went in, I explained to her that most of what she sees won't be vegan. We went in and got a sample of their chocolate soy cream before saying that, yes, we'll take a pint to bring home with us.

Anna looked at all the other varieties of ice cream and pointed to one of them, saying, "I want to try that one now, Daddy."

The day will come, maybe soon, maybe in a year or two, when Anna starts to ask the big questions. Why do other people eat things that aren't vegan? If animals are our friends, then why are we friends with people who eat our friends? Etc. Etc. Dot, dot, dot.

At what age did you first wonder the same thing about religion? Why are other people Lutheran and not Catholic? Why do those women dress like that? If Jesus is Lord, then who is Vishnu and what's the deal with those arms?

Veganism isn't a religion, of course, but the comparison is a useful one. Children are raised with certain values when it comes to food. Some kids start eating junk food at a year old. Some kids have a diet heavy on meat and light on veggies. Some kids have a vegan diet. These choices (like religious choices) have ethical, social and political ramifications whether parents realize it or not

"Remember what I said," I calmly reminded Anna about the ice cream, "those aren't vegan. We're getting the vegan one."

And just like that, the conversation was over. No follow up questions were asked. No further desire to try the non-vegan ice cream was expressed.

I've taken a hard line in my life against animal exploitation. I am against it. I want it to end. Completely end. I want there to be no more ownership of animals. I cannot force myself to shy away from this. I can't pretend like I'm OK with free range this or grass-fed this.

But it's my job as a parent to raise a daughter (and son, but I don't have to worry about Liam for at least another couple years) who can function within society just like I do ... preferably better than I do. I can only hope that she notices how Mrs. Piggy and I socially interact with omnivores (our friends, our family) and realize that even though we may disagree about how human animals should treat non-human animals, we still show each other respect and enjoy each other's company and love each other.

All of which makes the following question more important and complicated than it might seem: When she starts to ask the big questions, do I give her the big answers?


Hase said...

How very interesting. Thank you for sharing this with us. I can imagine your discomfort, but I am sure you will handle the questions very well when they will come.
I am amazed how little Anna already knows what "vegan" means, by the way! Does she really know the full sense of the word?

Al said...

Actually, just a few minutes ago she was eating breakfast with a friend of hers who I watch on Fridays and the friend had a sippy cup full of milk. I reminded Anna that she should never drink anything of hers. She said OK.

I asked Anna if she knew why and she said no. So I said, "It's not vegan."

She looked at the cup for a few seconds and said, "Cow's milk."

So, she at least knows that we don't drink cow's milk. I don't know if she understands "meat" yet, and like I said in the post, I'm fine if we don't have to have that conversation for a while.

The Voracious Vegan said...

I don't have any children myself but if I ever do have children they will be raised as happy, healthy cruelty free vegans. We don't hurt other people, we don't hurt animals. We love them. I'm sorry I don't have any ideas or suggestions for you, I just wanted to thank you for covering a difficult topic with candor and honesty.

Evan Nelson said...

(Well written.)

Ask yourself to what extent you want Anna (and Liam) to come to the same ethical decision on their own, and to what extent you want to indoctrinate ethical decisions. Of course, you want to do both, but the negotiation will be the most important thing, and neither of your children will come to their own ethical choices for (likely) another 20 years. In the meantime, you've got their undivided attention. Use it well!

Niecey said...

Have you seen this book yet?
I'm looking forward to picking one up

zerbert said...

Good post! I'm not sure how it's going to go here as Svara grows up, either. We're vegetarian, but not 100% vegan. We don't eat dairy or eggs (hardly) at home, but when we eat out I'm not too particular with dairy and eggs. When we go to the grocery store my husband shows the fish and meat to Svara and tells her it is yucky. If it was just me I wouldn't even show it to her, but anyway... we have a Richard Scarry book and it has a picture of a turkey at a holiday meal. She keeps turning to that page and saying "yucky turkey, don't eat that!" and then petting it and saying "soft". I need to show her a picture of a real turkey I think... it's hard to know what to do!!

Kris said...

Nice post. I think you're using the right tack with Anna. Work that Socratic method, sir.

Neta said...

I like your writing and your thoughts about this topic.
I think kids understand more than they can express in words. It's amazing how the vegan thing can be so natural for them. It really gives hope for a more vegan future.

Jennifer McNichols said...

We have an almost 5 year old that we're raising vegetarian (DH and I have both been vegetarian for almost 20 years). we live in a smallish town in Texas surrounded by mostly non-vegetarian family. (You can imagine it's not easy to be vegetarian in this situation.) We've found picture books about being vegetarian to be helpful in discussing what being vegetarian means. Until just recently we kept the explanation simple - "the animals aren't treated very nice" - but lately she's been asking for more details on *how* they aren't treated nice so we're starting to gently talk about factory farming. We try to keep explanations simple, letting her guide us with her questions for the amount of detail she wants.

Peace, Love and Veganism said...

Wow. Great post. Someday, if we ever have kids (insert grumbling here) I know we will have to deal with the same issues, and it's good to have this conversation. Unfortunately, with my husband not (yet) vegan, and not sure he will ever be, this will be an even more interesting conversation in our household!