Our mum was introduced to the vegetarian lifestyle before she gave birth to us. She started eating less meat and made the transition step by step. Our household became fully vegetarian just before we emigrated to the Netherlands in 1993. It wasn’t exactly the most easiest thing to do, especially back in the days. Growing up as a vegetarian seems to trigger a lot of criticisms and misconceptions from the society.
Criticisms on raising vegetarian children
The people around us always had strong opinions about our “unhealthy diet”. Some even felt bad for us because “we couldn’t eat anything” and “had to live with restrictions”. They just couldn’t understand why we would torture ourselves like that. Our mum also received lots of criticisms and pressure from our family. They would tell her not to be so strict on us and to let us eat meat, because we’re just kids. They assumed we wanted to eat meat, but the reality is, we never wanted to eat meat. Luckily though, our mum never gave in because she knew what’s best for us.
A meatless childhood
As a little kid, we didn’t truly grasp what being vegetarian was all about. All we knew was, “we do not eat meat”. At home we didn’t have a problem with it. We didn’t see it as a restriction, because our mum and dad always prepared lots of different vegetarian food for us.
It was only when we had to participate in social events like camp that we felt we were slightly “different” from others. But even so, our mum always made sure we had more than enough to eat. For example, she would buy vegetarian noodles in advance. And as she dropped us off, she would ask the other mums, who helped out at camp, to cook the noodles for us as dinner. We were also given a huge ‘goodie bag’ filled with snacks, so we wouldn’t feel hungry or feel like we would miss out on anything when other kids had their snack.
Choosing a vegetarian diet
Initially, being vegetarian was not our own choice. It was a choice our mum made with the premise that it’s healthier for our upbringing. We never asked why we weren’t allowed to eat certain foods, while other kids could. Perhaps it was imprinted in our brains at an early stage that eating animals is wrong, so it became our norm and habit. Even when we were teenagers, we were often given the choice to continue being vegetarian, or to change our diet. We never had to think twice about it. Being raised vegetarian naturally taught us to look beyond the flavours and “desire” to eat meat. We strongly believe that an animal doesn’t need to die in order for us to live.
Of course, we’ve had moments where we would be annoyed to find out we couldn’t eat the things we used to eat, because it contains animal ingredients (excluding dairy and eggs back then). Let’s take the example of cheese. We loved to eat grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. But, around 2006, we found out that it contains rennet, so our mum gave us the free will to eat it or not. After a moment of disbelief and reluctance, we decided to give up on cheese. Though soon after, we found out that there’s actually cheese made with vegetarian rennet. And in the recent years, we even learnt that there’s vegan cheese! This taught us that it’s not about giving up on anything, it’s about finding better alternatives.
Thoughts on being raised vegetarian
Throughout our childhood we had to deal with uneasy occasions like family dinners. There was always the discussion about the extremity of a vegetarian diet. And another hot topic would be “what to order” for us. At times, we could sense a bit of annoyance/ embarrassment in them whenever our mum would make a special request at a restaurant. Like, no meat, no seafood, no animal oil, and, “if you can, please cook it separately from the meat dishes”. These situations made us feel uncomfortable, especially as kids. It felt like we were being a burden to others.
However, as we grew up, we gradually realised that it’s perfectly fine to state our dietary requirements. Moreover, we aren’t asking much, we just want vegetables. Is it really difficult to just cook some leafy greens? Or, are people complicating the situation because of their misconceptions and prejudices about a plant-based diet? Actually, being raised as a vegetarian is neither bad nor wrong, having to deal with other people’s criticisms is. We never felt like being stripped of something, or that we were missing out on the “good food”. Instead, we feel grateful because at least it taught us that the life of an animal is more important than the “desire” for a burger.
There are many misconceptions about being raised vegetarian. Like, all of a sudden, people start to “worry” about our health, or feel bad for us because we were being “oppressed” by our evil mum. The fact is, we’ve never experienced health issues and nutritional deficiencies before. It’s often said that children have the right to make their own choices and that parents shouldn’t force their beliefs on them. We totally agree with this. Therefore, parents shouldn’t force their “meat is necessary” beliefs on their children as well, don’t you think? Like our mum always says, “a baby is just a blank sheet of paper, you can draw anything on it as you wish”. It’s your own choice to draw a green leaf on it, or a dead animal.
Our outlook on a plant-based lifestyle
As we’re becoming more aware of the animal cruelty in different industries around the world, we’re gradually transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. At the moment, we’re committed to a vegan diet at home, and we try our best to do so when we eat outside. We don’t know when we will become fully vegans, but by taking one step at a time, we’re getting closer to our goal. In our journey, we discovered new cooking methods and even learnt to make our favourite foods vegan like pizza, cake and Snickers. Veganism has changed our eating habits, and gradually, it’s changing other bits of our lives as well. We hope to inspire our readers to join us in this journey to a plantiful way of living.
Would you raise your children vegetarian/ vegan?