I have been eating vegan for the past five years. Before that I was a vegetarian and before that a (very selective) pescatarian. My wife became a pescatarian when she was eighteen. Since there is no meat in our household there is no question about raising Isaya meat- free. But even though we know a vegetarian lifestyle is both healthy and better for the environment and therefore the best thing for our child, we don’t want to put too many restrictions on our daughter when it comes to her diet. So what are we going to do?
When I was five or six years old I tried meat at a friend’s house. I believe it was steak. I remember this happened twice. The first time I liked it, the second time I got nauseous. When I talked about it at home my sister said ‘O my gosh, don’t you know that’s an animal!’. I was so horrified by this realization that it was the last time I ever tried meat. My parents raised us as vegetarians who sometimes ate fish. Basically that meant I only liked fish sticks and the occasional fish burger. They never said ‘you can’t eat meat’. They left that choice to us, but my sister and I chose not to.
Ever since I was a little girl, things like milk, cheese, butter and cream made me either nauseous or gave me a headache. So I mainly had soy based products. When I was twelve I stopped eating fish as well, because it didn’t feel right anymore. I know for a lot of veggies fish ‘feels’ different, but for me it definitely felt like eating an animal. Back then that was my main reason for being a vegetarian: animal cruelty.
When I was sixteen I became interested in the environment and angry about world hunger. The numbers involved stunned me, which then became the most important argumentation not to eat animal products. A few years later, after getting food poisoning in the Caribbean, I also couldn’t stomach eggs anymore. This meant there were no more animal products in my diet. So I guess if you would ask me now, the reason I eat vegan is because it’s what my body tells me to do.
I say ‘eat vegan’ not ‘am a vegan’ because technically being a vegan means living a vegan lifestyle. So also no leather. Yeah… I’m sorry, I would never wear fur, but I’m no saint. I love leather bags and shoes. And jackets. And belts. And wallets. Pfoeh.. Don’t hate me, you ‘real’ vegans. I’m not perfect. But I try my best when it comes to taking care of the environment, our animals and my body.
And this is what I want for my daughter as well. I want Isaya to be healthy, I want her to have respect for the environment and all living things and I want her to grow up in a world that isn’t slowly dying due to inequality and pollution. But I also want to raise a girl, a woman, who can make her own choices. Who doesn’t feel like she can’t have certain things just because I say so. I also don’t want Aya to be the only kid at the party who can’t have ice cream or cake because they are made with animal products. I don’t want to tell her no, when my wife is eating cheese or eggs or even fish and Aya is curious about it. I want her to try things, get to know her own taste, what feels good and what doesn’t, and then decide what she wants to do about the whole veggie/vegan thing.
I feel pretty confident about Isaya’s choices, because for the first fifteen months of her life she has been given breastmilk and very healthy, mostly organic foods and well balanced meals. So I know there is a good foundation. And of course we will keep steering her in the right direction when it comes to eating fruits, vegetables, whole grain products and everything else she needs to stay healthy. But there has to be a certain level of freedom and flexibility as well.
Maybe she will take after us and decide animals are not for eating. Maybe she won’t like milk (she drinks almond, soy and oats now, so I don’t know yet) or eggs (she tried it a couple of times, was not impressed). Maybe she will love to share some fried fish with her other mama on Saturdays at the farmer’s market. And maybe she will try meat one day, at a friend’s house and decide she likes it. When it comes to that, we can blame the donor and move on. Because let’s face it, whatever she chooses to become, all I really want is for her to be happy.