Friday, June 13, 2008

Forcing Beliefs

Vegan Outreach, June 11, 2008

By Anne Green & Matt Ball

In her last, three-team meet (right), lifelong-vegan Ellen Green won the 800m, 1600m, and 3200m events. She also finished the year with straight-As in every advanced class, with the highest score for the year in Honors Geometry.

Vegans often hear from people complaining that we are trying to "force our beliefs" on others. Yesterday, we received an email attacking our parenting, which said, in part: The problem I have is that forcing your child to be a vegan (or a vegetarian for that matter) is bad parenting, you cannot force your own beliefs on a child. Let a child come to its own decision in its teens.

Is "good parenting" simply allowing society to impart the current norms?

Parenting is, by definition, making decisions for the child. Parents decide where the child lives; which school she attends; which religion, if any, she learns; which culture(s) and people she interacts with, and many, many other things.

Like everything else about raising a child, feeding her means making decisions. We aren't forcing our beliefs on our daughter Ellen, we are living our values. We have never forbidden her from eating animals; rather, we have explained (at an age-appropriate level) why we believe it is wrong to support killing and consuming pigs, birds, fish, etc. We would no sooner raise our daughter to view animals as food than we would teach her to hate and discriminate against homosexuals (or, if we lived 150 years ago, to keep other human beings as slaves).

Most children are naturally drawn to and have an affinity for animals; it is frightening and abnormal when a child chooses to torture, rather than befriend, other animals. We believe it is inconsistent, unethical, and yes, bad parenting not to respect and nurture this inherent compassion, but instead feed a child her friends.

When asked, 13-year-old Ellen chimes in: "So what, are you just supposed to not feed the child anything until he or she is capable of making a completely informed decision? Come on! Based on the information I have now, I would choose to be vegan no matter what you had raised me to eat, quite frankly. And I would be mad if you had raised me eating meat and waited until now to let me 'decide.'"

Of course, this discussion ignores the elephant in the room - or, rather, the pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc. The animals who suffer on factory farms and die in industrial slaughterhouses are individuals whose lives are real and complete on their own. Their lives matter to themselves - they are not just hypothetical pawns to be tossed about in the abstract. We have to answer to them for every choice we make, including what we eat, how we raise our children, and how we interact with others.

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