Parenting : Vegetarian

I was born vegetarian in a non-vegetarian country (the US).

I grew loving animals. I played through my childhood with cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits and ducks. I tended caterpillars till they became butterflies. I built ant colonies and caught ladybugs and fireflies. Nursed injured mynahs, bottle-fed abandoned baby rats and tended wounded bats.

My parents never had to do any propaganda to make sure my siblings and I remained vegetarian. We never had any other outlook in life. I would never have dreamed of being anything else. I loved my dogs, cats, bats, cows and chickens too much to ever dream of eating them. The very thought was repulsive.

In fact, my parents did a lot of propaganda to make us understand there are other people in the world in who practice other choices and we should be tolerant.

Today, I remain fiercely vegetarian but live in a non-vegetarian home in India.

I married a non-vegetarian. One section of my kitchen/ sink/ fridge is strictly vegetarian. Both kinds of foods are cooked at separate times, in separate dishes. But I ensure that my husband always has tasty, healthy (as healthy as is possible when it comes to meat) non-vegetarian food. So do my dogs and cats. I have numerous cookbooks and we try all kinds of recipes.

When I am organizing (through the phone) the cooking of non-vegetarian food at home or sharing the dining table with a pot of mutton stew, I make sure my brain does not think about it. I am not interested in my husband getting changed to my side unless he himself wants to do so. That seems pointless.

From time to time, I wonder what possessed me to marry a meat-eater; I wonder if I was being foolishly brave. But my husband is very accommodating and I don't really regret it that often anymore J.

I have two daughters. Till now, both of them are non-meat-eaters. My meat-eating husband and I came to a premarital agreement that, initially, our kids would be non-meat-eaters and that they could later decide what they wanted to do.

For years now, I have been trying my hardest to make sure my children turn out vegetarian. I endlessly explain to them about the pain animals go through to arrive trussed and barbecued on our table. I make them understand why it is hard for meat eaters, who have grown up eating meat, to feel that pain.

My in-laws have never been very comfortable with having vegetarian nieces and granddaughters.

This has led to some rather funny incidents. Like the time my elder daughter went up to her grandmother when she was in the kitchen one day, cooking up a storm to produce her legendary mutton biryani and asked her point blank why she never made any biryani for her. My mother-in-law was startled. But, from that day onwards, she always rustled up a pot of vegetable biryani for her two vegetarian granddaughters as well.

My friends and colleagues tell me that forcing vegetarianism on my kids is autocratic, dictatorial and unfair. They may be right. But the day my children opt to eat needlessly murdered animals will be the day they break my heart. And I preparing myself for the fact that, later or sooner, that day might well arrive.

My lessons on vegetarianism to my children are intertwined with lessons about not causing needless pain to anyone. I cannot teach them about being kind to all beings if I have to insert a rider that says "be kind to all beings except animals because, once in a way, you just have to chop off their heads and eat them."

My elder daughter constantly quizzes me about vegetarianism. She wants to know why her father feels no guilt for the animal's pain. If he does not feel that way, why should she? She wonders why she has to be vegetarian when her cousin is not. She is curious about the taste of meat.

Till now, I have been able to keep her non-vegetarian aspirations in check. I don't know how long I can continue to do so. But I keep the sermons flowing.

I really couldn't care what religion she follows. Or if the person she marries is from where I come from or from Timbuktoo, as long as she makes a sensible choice. But I really sincerely would want her (and her younger sister) to remain vegetarian.

My wish is too ambitious, I am told.

But can there be anything wrong in wanting just two more people in this world to not be part of a practice that causes anguish to a section of our earth?

What do you think?

Should parents be allowed to make such decisions for their children?

The author works for Young Buzz India ltd, a career guidance and people development company.

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