I am a long-time vegan who is "Auntie" to two non-vegan four year old nephews that I am very close with.
I have begun to dread our shared meals because they have become very inquisitive about why I don't eat certain things that they eat. Of course, these are meals that take place at their parents' house as my household is entirely vegan and questions don't arise when we are all eating the same thing.
First, I must say that there is never any *drama* surrounding my veganism - their parents are very respectful of my diet and we all cook and eat together frequently. There are never any complaints or disparaging comments when I'm the one providing a vegan meal and my sister is careful to set aside a vegan portion for me before adding meat or whatnot when she is cooking. For this, I love my sister!
At four years old, however, many questions are arising at meal times. "Why doesn't Auntie eat this or that?" You get the idea.
Until now, I always told them that just as certain dinosaurs (which they are obsessed with) were herbivores, I am a herbivore; and just as certain dinosaurs ate meat, they eat meat. This has bought me some time, but I need to come up with a more satisfactory answer - quickly. They are demanding it.
If they were my children (and vegans) I could say, "We don't eat animals silly!" But they are not vegans. I want to tell them that I don't eat animals because I don't want to hurt animals, but this would introduce them not only to the concept that meat hurts animals and meat *is* dead animals, but that death exists!
I don't want the terrible burden of introducing my precious nephews to the concept of death!!! My sister always defers their questions to me, and trusts me to come up with a satisfactory answer, but I have none. We have had several awkward silences with all of the adults staring at each other in speechless fear!
Hi Beary, I agree that is a tough situation; I'm not sure what I would do either. Have you tried talking to your sister and asking her how far she's willing for you to go with the kids? She's very supportive of you, maybe there's somethings she wouldn't mind you telling them that would give them a satisfactory answer. If not I think you could get away with just telling them the partial truth, that meat and dairy make you sick, until they are old enough to really understand the rest of your reasons. I definitely wish you the best of luck!
I think it is crazy to keep kids in the dark about the fact that meat comes from animals. Why should they not know? It is the truth and it is a big part of their life. I personally would say (as I will have to in a few years when my 2 nieces and 2 nephews ask), "We don't eat meat because most of it is raised by people that don't treat the animals very nicely. Also, we don't think that animals are here for us to eat." It is kind of hard to get into the fact that we are not meant to eat animals at that young of an age because they probably won't understand yet. If you want, maybe discuss this with your sister without the kids around so that you can be prepared and you already know that your sister is on board with your answer. Good luck! Let us know how it goes so we can learn from you!
That's tough. I feel like you need to privately ask your sister how honest she wants you to be with them since they are her kids. I wouldn't want to offend her especially because she sounds very respectful of your choices. I have a few friends that absolutely want me to tell the truth, and others, don't say it to me but as I see them doing everything in their power to get their kids to eat meat and dairy, I would never really tell the truth. I just say I prefer to not eat animal products and leave it at that. My kids 7 1/2 and 3 1/2 know the truth. Well, I guess sort of the 3 1/2 year old does and doesn't, I don't hide anything but he doesn't really get it. He says he eats animals even though he doesn't. He just want to be like a dinosaur. lol
Love that dinaosaur phrase you used.. what a great way to explain that... as for telling them? That is tough.. I've always been very honest with my own child, but my nieces have never asked. I know they will some day, and it will become a sticky conversation as their parents do NOT understand my thoughts on this matter.
I would def. talk to your Sister and see what she is comfortable with you saying, and then just taking their lead. My child is very inquisitive and wilL NOT stop until he gets the answer he desires. Some children are happy with "because" as an answer :-) So your little relatives may each require a different response.. but only your sister can say what she is comfortable with that response being.
I thank you all so much for your responses. Each one gave me something to think about.
First of all, I agree, I need to speak to my sister about this. Although she always defers their questions to me, I don't think she has fully thought through how they might be confused or distressed by my answer if I were truly honest.
Catconserv, I agree that children *should* know what meat is - and what it means for animals. I hope that one day soon they ask me something along the lines of "Why do chicken nuggets have the same name as chickens do?" That would put me in a much better position to help them understand that meat is animals. So far, they only want to know why I won't eat the chicken nuggets!
Samantha, you gave me a good idea about telling the partial truth. I think I might just tell them that eating meat makes my 'heart hurt'. This could mean that I don't think these foods are healthy for me, or that they make me sad. The kids can decide what they think it means.
If this isn't enough of an explanation, I might have to say that eating meat makes me feel sorry for the animals that have to leave their friends and families and go to the supermarket to become food. This introduces the concept that meat is animals.
What do you guys think of these explanations. I want to be honest, because I believe it is so important to establishing trust between an adult and child, but I don't want to overwhelm them with information that might frighten them.
It was so much easier when they asked about where they came from and we got a book from the library! It was also easier when one of them was terrified the night before his first swim class and then finally told me in a broken whisper that he was scared he might poop in the pool despite having succeeded at potty training a year before!! Kids have a lot of worries and fears - I don't want to add to it!
I agree honesty is definitely the best way to go, but also that you want to be on the vague side. Litttle ones do not always need to know how cruel the world can be. I really like your idea of saying it makes your heart hurt. Simple and to the point without scaring them. Also, I believe the best way to influence people is simply BEING. They will see you living your happy and peaceful life and some day when they are big enough they can learn more. But the example you will be for them-what a great gift!
I'm all for brutal honesty in this situation--even though its aftermath will include your nephews' parents having to address some issues I'm guessing they'd rather not.
At four, they're plenty old enough to understand a lot! I'd simply say, "Auntie Beary loves animals and would never want to hurt them. Meat comes from animals. Animals are hurt very badly when they're raised for meat--and then they're killed. That hamburger came from a beautiful cow--this is what the cow looked like before it was killed and ground up [pull out a lovely picture of a cow]. I prefer to let cows live instead of being killed and cut up."
Okay, those EXACT words may not be the words you choose, but you get my drift. I just think being very frank about WHAT meat actually is, where it comes from, the cruelty involved in it, etc., is the way to go. Then let your nephews' parents explain why THEY don't care about animals as much as their aunt does!
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