Friday, 27 February 2009

Compromise or copout?

The other day, C was reading this article about bringing children up as vegetarians. He read much of it out, getting annoyed about the mother who was forcing her children to be vegetarian and the father who was too weak to stand up for his omnivorous principles to insist on a different way. As he was reading snippets of it out he was clearly expecting me to be equally offended, but I was sitting there thinking ‘Do you actually know who you are talking to?’.

I am a third-generation vegetarian. My grandparents became vegetarian after the war, initially because it was easier during times of rationing, but continuing for ethical reasons. My mother and all three of her sisters were brought up vegetarian (and atheist) in days when no-one understood what it meant. And all of them brought their children up to be vegetarian, one of them going further and becoming vegan and bringing her son up as a vegan.

I always assumed that my children would be fourth-generation vegetarians. Never did I picture myself as a mum to someone bolting down ham sandwiches and roast chicken. Never did I picture myself (after the trials of shared accommodation) having meat in my house. My father and all my uncles gave up meat at home (none of them gave it up entirely and would sneak a bacon butty when out at the pub), so of course anyone I married would do the same.

So how has it come to pass that my fridge often contains meat and fish? Why are there cans of tuna in the cupboard and packets of chorizo sitting next to the olive oil? Because, as has to happen occasionally in any relationship, there had to be a compromise. And I lost this one. The first time C came to visit me in my studio flat in the wilds of Barton, Oxford, he brought pizza. Pizza with pepperoni on it. To my ‘You can’t bring that in here. I won’t have meat in my house,’ he responded, ‘It’s just pizza! It’s not going to contaminate you,’ and when I tried to insist, he offered to go home. Love-sick twenty-something that I was, I demurred and let him have his pizza and cook it in my oven.

And there was my first mistake. As with dealing with toddlers and teenagers, if you show any sign of weakness, you become open to manipulation… sorry, I mean being the compromiser instead of the compromisee. My previous partner had been the one to show the weakness and I’d had four years of blissful meat-free living, only having to be in its presence in restaurants. Suddenly, I met someone who could hold his own and who could see that I would give in so as to be with him.

Despite spending years living with him and his omnivorous ways, for some reason I still assumed that our children would be brought up vegetarian. When we got engaged, there were things we had to discuss. Things like where we would get married, and how we would bring our children up. At this point I discovered that he was fairly determined that any children would not be brought up vegetarian and that, despite being completely unreligious, he wanted to get married in a church. These were two things that seemed to me like deal-breakers. When I told my mother and aunt one day, they were shocked. ‘What are you going to do?’ they asked. And the answer was that we would find some kind of compromise. Because I didn’t want to not marry him.

We got married in a registry office and R is being brought up as an omnivore. And I have gradually become more and more happy with this decision, to the point where I will stand up for it when talking to other vegetarians who question my principles. The theory is that R will have tasted meat and fish and will therefore have experienced it by the time she is old enough to decide for herself whether she wants to eat it or not. She will also have tasted and experience plenty of delicious vegetarian food and will know about nutrition and so on. For the moment, all she knows is that Mummy doesn’t eat meat or fish. Occasionally we’ll say ‘Mummy doesn’t eat meat because she’s vegetarian.’ But it won’t be until she’s a bit older and able to properly understand the relationship between the beef on the table and the cute cow in the field, that she it will be explained to her why Mummy doesn’t eat meat.

Whereas the mother in the article is keeping her children vegetarian until they can understand the implications of eating meat and decide for themselves that they actually want to eat meat, we are waiting for her to be old enough to understand the same implications, but to decide if she wants to give it up.

I never had a choice. I was always told that I could eat meat at school or at friends’ houses if I wanted to, but could not eat it at home (only the cats were allowed to eat meat in our house). While I did try some fish fingers and some fish once, I had never had the opportunity to gradually develop a taste for meat and fish, so it always tasted disgusting. Most fish makes me feel sick, as does roast chicken and other stronger smelling meats. I never had the opportunity to decide that, yes, I enjoyed the taste, but I wanted to give it up because I thought it was ethically wrong. I tried going vegan for ethical reasons and lasted four months. It’s quite possible that I would have done the same with vegetarianism if I hadn’t been one from birth.

I am very happy to have been brought up meat-free and am proud to be a third-generation vegetarian. But I have come to realise that bringing up a fourth-generation vegetarian isn’t necessarily that important. There are other ways to do things and by flooding R with delicious vegetarian food (much of made by C, who has compromised a lot himself and happily cooks and eats vegetarian food these days), if she does decide to follow in my footsteps, she’ll know that she can do so and still have a healthy and extremely satisfying diet.

What have you had to compromise on, or is your other half the main compromisee?


  1. I've had to compromise on a lot of those things that I said in my pre-children days which began "when I have children, I'll never...". (When I say 'a lot of', I probably mean 'all'.) Luckily, Husband and I are fairly similar in approach to kids, so I don't feel I've had to compromise hugely. He's a little more houseproud than me, so I think he's had to compromise a bit more.

  2. Furniture. Not so much because of DH, but because of his father who keeps making us beautiful hand-made pieces that are SO not my style!

    My SIL doesn't even want the cats in her house to eat meat and was horrified to come home one day and find one of them sitting on the front doorstep in the process of snarfing down a bird!

  3. Iota: Ah yes, many of those have gone out the window for me, too. 'When I have children, I won't ever shout at them.', 'When I have children, they will not watch more than half an hour of supervised TV a day.', 'When I have children they will never eat biscuits or chips or any kind of junk food.' etc. etc.

    AA: Oh dear. That must be really difficult. I presume he lives near you, so you can't hide it away in a basement or garage until he comes to visit?

    My aunt feeds her dogs vegan food, but not the cat, because cats are proper carivores, whereas dogs are onimvores like us, so can happily survive on a meat-free diet. Which seems OK, I suppose. The funny thing is, though, the dog is always eating the cat's food and the cat eats his vegan food!

    Personally, I think, if you're going to have a pet, you should feed it it's natural diet - or the closest you can get in the pet store! If you don't want a meat-eating pet, then choose a rabbit. Pets aren't able to make the ethical decision themselves and I don't think we should do it for them. (But there you go. Plenty of people are equally shocked at my own dietary choices.)

  4. You know what? that's a great question...

    I have just come to realise that I don't feel like I have compromised on anything with my husband. He is brilliant at just letting me be who I am. Now if I felt that he really didn't like me doing anything special or didn't agree with one of my belief, I would adjust in a different way I guess, because I love him.

    I think that if you'd asked him the question he would probably answer not doing as much cycling as he used to. He really loves his cycling and has a great bike sleeping in the garage, but I am freaking out everytime he goes for a ride. I am scared of losing him in a freak accident. I try to control it and not show it too much, but I think he knows I am scared so he naturally slowed down the cycling.

  5. Perfectly Happy Mum: Wow! That's pretty amazing. Though perhaps I'm just more inclined to compromise, because I can't think of a relationship (and I've had a few serious ones over the years) where I didn't compromise something, or change a little bit to fit in, or to make them happier, or to keep from arguing.

    I can understand your being scared of him having an accident. It must be quite difficult. Cycling has always scared me, a bit, unless it's just on a nice safe cycle path.

    I think C has had to compromise a fair bit, himself. For a start he does tend to avoid a lot of the food that makes me feel ill. He moved here, where he has to be close to my crazy family (which has its benefits and is lovely for me, but can't be as lovely for him). He's my business partner, doing work which I love, but which probably isn't his ideal. And plenty more, I imagine!

  6. I am also a veggie married to a meat eater. I did think about bringing Misses E and M up vegetarian but decided, like you, that they could make that choice when they're older and can understand. As it is neither of them are big meat eaters. They enjoy a bit of beef if my mum ever does a Sunday Dinner with it (which is rare) and will eat ham and sausages, but they're happy to eat quorn and enjoy veggie food.

    I was the only Veggie in my family and have now been veggie for 18 years. It was an ethical choice for me when I learnt more about the subject at 16, but I couldn't condemn my children for having different opinions to me.

    I think we did OK CM. :D

  7. Yes, my FIL lives very close by, so we can't hide the furniture in the basement. I did put one chest of drawers inside a closet because that was where it fit best in that room and he was horribly offended, but I refused to move it!

    There's an award for you at my blog should you care to collect it.

  8. Jo: I'm always very impressed with someone like you, who has made the decision themselves and stuck to it. I didn't have to give anything up, so it was easy for me. (Though why we feel giving things up and martyrdom are things to applaud, I'm not entirely sure!) But that's part of the reason why it seems better to give the kids their own ability to choose. (I still have a little internal cheer when R turns her nose up at meaty things!)

    AA: Very difficult. And thank you!

  9. I think its a wonderful way to think about it and raise your children. Im all about giving them the freedom to choose.
    My hubby is a big meat eater but i love making healthy veg packed meals when he is not here so feel my kids also get to know both worlds.