Thursday, June 19, 2008

Are You Raising Him Vegetarian?

We will not be indoctrinating Gabriel into any ideologies around food.

Sarah eats meat, as a matter of fact. She also enjoys the dinners I cook: vegetable soups, curried lentils, stir fries, chili, and she enjoys tofu the way I cook it. The dish she asks for more often than anything is a spicy Asian-style dish with soba noodles and green beans.

It is a blessing to live in a country where so many good, nutritious foods are available to us. Spoiled, we are. Even with the food industry being what it is, even with the devastation to family farms and the perversion wrought by giganto-agri corporations, by God I can get my hands on beans, delicious greens, sweet fruits, potatoes that taste like butter, nuts, and brown rice, of course. For food, we are the luckiest nation, and never more so than in these port cities where I have lived. In Los Angeles, we can reach into the bread basket of any nation on earth.

If eating meat were crucial for my health, I would say a prayer and eat the meat; as it is, I bow to lentils, carrots, herbs, and broccoli. So far, no special interest group has taken up the cause of vegetable rights - surely, eating vegetables is the cruelest thing of all. Vegetables are living beings, too, and they can't even run away or call for help!

"Everything is somebody else's lunch." That is Zen Master Dae Kwang's picturesque phrase. To sustain your life, you must consume other life. There is no way around this. There may still be a few literal-minded Jains walking the earth somewhere in mincing steps, sweeping the ground in front of them and wearing dust masks to avoid taking the lives of small creatures. Perhaps there are, but even these strenuous measures are ineffective. With every step they take, every time their foot comes to rest on the ground, they are taking life.

This truth should put us in our place. Vegetarians are no more innocent of killing because their prey doesn't have a face. To live conscientiously is to acknowledge that our life comes at the cost of other life; how to show appreciation and repay the debt is the individual's unique assignment.

When I identify myself as a vegetarian, it is usually to fend off generous servings of meat at restaurants or the homes of family and friends. It is a statement of preference. My preference is to eat low on the food chain, for a number of reasons.

Vegetarianism is not a merit badge. It is not a mark of enlightenment. What we eat is the harvest of the land and of labor (usually, someone else's labor). What we eat, let us eat with gratitude; eat foods that give pleasure and health; and eat foods that make the best use of our shared resources. We forget, in the comfort of our climate-controlled buildings, that we are all on a long camping trip together.

We will feed Gabriel good food, prepared with love in our home, and keep the test-tube weirdo foods to a happy minimum. We won't be sneaking "healthy" things into his treats. Early on, he'll be used to meat, and he will also be used to complete meals that don't have meat. We will say our graces and eat mindfully. When he's old enough, he'll know where his foods come from - and he will learn to cook.

If the lad loves himself and loves life, he'll make good decisions about what to ingest.


Kelly said...

Sound like you are being very sensible about the whole thing. Your last statement is quite true... he's going to ultimately be the one to make the decisions!

My granddaughter is one of the few kids I know that prefers the apples as her side in a "kid's meal" rather than fries. In fact, she's always loved fruits and vegetables!

I didn't become a vegetarian until 7 or 8 years ago and it wasn't for ethical reasons. In fact, we raise beef cattle and I enjoy hunting. I don't mind preparing meals using meat for my family.

Ji Hyang said...

One way of bringing this sense of mindfulness into eating meat-- which is done in tradtional cultures and is quite beautiful-- is to thank the animal's spirit-- and through this, recognise the web of connection. Of course, whatever rings true for you.