Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This is Not a Post About Milo & Otis

Anna was given the movie Milo and Otis some time ago. She watches it once or twice a week and loves it.

The first time we sat down to watch it I was mortified. It was obvious to me that the animals were at the very least put into some pretty horrible situations. They threw a cat off a cliff. Seriously, there's no other way to get that shot.

There is no concrete evidence out there that animals were harmed and/or killed in the making of the movie, but there are plenty of rumors and I'd be surprised as all hell if some of them weren't true.

At any rate, it was given to Anna and she watched it and now it's one of her favorite movies and I'm conflicted over it and sort of wish we never watched it in the first place.

But we did. And there's a part where the cat wonders if a crab is something he could eat.

(Here is what this post is really about.)

The last time we watched the movie, Anna said, "I wonder if Tony eats crabs."

Tony is one of our best family friends. He eats meat, milk and eggs, but I honestly didn't know if he ate crabs. So I told Anna that she could ask him next time he came over. She said OK.

So he came over, and I reminded Anna that she had something to ask him. She got all shy and said she didn't want to ask. I said that's fine and changed the subject. I was tempted to ask for her, but decided to respect her decision.

Later that day, I asked her about it.

Me: Why didn't you ask Tony if he eats crabs?

Anna: I just didn't want to.

Me: Why didn't you want to?

Anna: I was afraid that he wouldn't say that he didn't.

Never mind the double negative, this is some pretty deep stuff from my daughter.

First off, I am positive that she didn't mean afraid as in "scared". She meant it more in the sense of, "Oh, I'm afraid that the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive."

She might have been saying that she just didn't want to know whether or not Tony ate crabs. But I think the more likely interpretation is that she didn't want to start a potentially uncomfortable conversation. So she opted not to bring it up.

This makes me proud and sad at the same time. I'm proud because she's starting to get some social graces. Back in September, this exchange occurred between Anna and her aunt:

Anna: Is that vegan?

Jessica: No.

Anna: But you’re drinking it?

Jessica: Yes.

Anna: Oh. You not be vegan?

Jessica: No.

Anna: Oh. That’s wrong.

So not saying anything is an improvement. She's learning to function in a non-vegan world.

Of course, that's also the reason it makes me sad. I don't want her to be silenced. I want her to ask anyone any question whenever she wants. But then, that's what her parents are for. She asks us anything and everything and we always try to give her honest, age-appropriate answers.

Anna: Do you know if Tony eats crabs?

Me: I don't. But I do know that he eats meat, milk and eggs. You know that he's not vegan, right?

Anna: But why isn't he vegan?

Me: I'm not sure. But we still love him no matter what. Just like our other friends and family who eat animals. You know that almost all of them eat animals and milk and eggs. They aren't vegan, but of course we still love them and they love us.

Anna: It makes me a little bit sad though. But just a little bit.

Then I told her about how her mom and dad used to eat animals, milk and eggs and how different people think differently about it. Some people don't think it's wrong to kill animals, so they're not vegan. Some people think it's wrong, but eating meat, milk and eggs is what they've done their whole lives and it can be really hard to change when you've done something your whole life. And some people, like mom and dad, think it's wrong and decided to change.

This is oversimplifying things, of course. But I think it's about as complicated as she's able to understand at this age. She knows the basics of why we don't eat animals, cow's milk and chicken's eggs. And now that she has the basics down of why we don't eat those things, she's just trying to understand why other people do.

What do you think?

To my vegan readers: What do you tell your children when they ask about your non-vegan friends and family.

To my non-vegan readers: what would you like me to tell Anna when she asks why you aren't vegan?


Ay┼če said...

My God. This is some deep stuff Al. It makes me wonder what I will be saying to my kids, and also, what other people will say to them once they learn they are vegetarians... I'm afraid I don't have an answer for your question, yet...

Niecey said...

My kids who are old enough to ask are also old enough to remember when we made the switch. In fact it was my now 5 year old who was 3 at the time who initiated our change. So thankfully they have a good understanding of both sides. They get sad at their meat eating friends and my 7 year old wants to make it against the law to eat animals. It's a complex issue for kid's wee minds.

My almost 3 year old laughs if she hears that someone eats a chicken or a fish. She thinks it's the most ridiculous joke ever. Like if someone said they ate their hat or their brother. She said to me once, "no, we don't eat FISH! We take care of fish" I could hear her rolling her eyes with her tone of voice.

Hase said...

Yes, this IS deep stuff, I agree. And I am stunned by Anna's sensitiveness and mindfulness.

Celeste said...

You beat me to the punch on this one, as I had the same question. Maybe we should both submit it as a question to the Vegan Parents Council. It is something we've started to run into, but not so well articulated as Anna's questioning. At this point we've just kept it simple like you did, and will continue to keep age in mind when responding to questions like these. It is a struggle to have the beliefs that eating animals is wrong, but have people you care about take part in it.

Anne said...

As one of your non-vegan family members, I think your explanation to Anna was perfect. It boils down respecting other's choices and belief systems.

Al said...

Niecey, that's awesome. Kids say the darndest, most enlightening things.

Anne, thanks. I do feel like I'd have to modify your statement though to read something more like, respecting others regardless of their choices or belief systems.

Now obviously this doesn't apply across the boards. No one is expected to respect someone who chooses to rape others. We obviously don't respect the choice and we are within reason to not respect the person either (except for giving them the most basic respect we give other humans, meaning respect for the intrinsic value of their lives and the right to continue existing).

But I think it's perfectly possible to vehemently disagree with someone on matters that are up for debate, culturally speaking. For example, you and I know and love people who are against gay marriage and have even voted as such. We love them in spite of this fact. I can't speak for you, but I can say that I absolutely do not respect their beliefs on the matter. I don't know how their beliefs and actions can be morally justified. But that's just one part of a person.

This all comes eerily close to "hate the sin, not the sinner." Actually, now that I think about it, that's an idea I explored on the blog before:

Allison said...

Wow, your child is very clever. I imagine that getting her to understand why other people DO eat that stuff will be difficult. Honestly, I still don't have that question figured out after years of choosing this lifestyle. Many vegans do silence themselves, wheres others change the 'meat-eating' way of life for a good chunk of people. =)