“Is this, like, actually a dead fish?” My son wrinkled his nose at his half-eaten tuna salad sandwich.
“Um,” I stuttered. It was a rare moment that I found myself at a loss for words. My general parenting policy is to be honest–particularly when it comes to scientific facts like where food comes from. But if I told my son he was eating a dead fish, my increasingly picky 6-year-old might push his plate away and I would be forced to make him a new lunch. I mumbled something along the lines of, “Well, what do you think?” and made a mental note to discuss the matter later.
I really, really don’t want my son to become a vegetarian. I feel torn because, on the one hand, I’m a huge foodie. I was raised kosher, but abandoned the dietary laws in my teens (in high school, my friends and I expressed our adolescent angst by sneaking out to McDonald’s and ordering everything on the dollar menu. Gross, I know). I still resent the idea of having limited culinary options.
Furthermore, cutting all meat out of our family’s diet is simply not efficient. As a single, working mom, by the time I get home, there is often barely enough time to shove some chicken nuggets in the oven and cut up a cucumber before bed. Making tofu taste good enough for a kid to eat is so time consuming and complicated, I can’t imagine incorporating it into our daily routine.
On the flip side, I realize that one day I may find that my eating habits fall on the wrong side of mainstream ideas of morality. For example, I find it increasingly hard to justify supporting a farming industry that keep animals in disgusting and cruel conditions and some part of me wonders why society deems it OK to kill and eat some animals (cows and sheep) but not others (cats and dogs). It seems pretty arbitrary. If my son’s sense of compassion steers him away from eating “dead animals,” I should probably support his choice, right? Discouraging him from exploring these moral questions because I don’t know how to cook tofu or quinoa seems pretty selfish.
Later, in the park, I reopened the conversation. I admitted that eating tuna was, in fact, eating a dead fish.
Then I said, “Remember when you learned in school about the difference between opinion and fact? Tuna salad is a dead fish. That’s a fact. But people have different opinions about whether it is OK to eat dead animals. What do you think?”
After thinking for a second, he responded, “I guess if they are already dead when they get to the supermarket, it’s not like we are actually killing them. So it’s OK.”
I silently breathed a sigh of relief.