In this post, I express my stand on the topic based on my own experience. My intention here is not to offend meat eaters and meat lovers. Meat is a dietary choice and something that each of us has to reason to ourselves about.
Many children are raised consuming meat- parents encourage and serve meat as ‘normal’, healthy, culturally natural and rather ‘good’ to eat. I believe it is not the best approach parents can take and I present my reasons here. As parents, we have a fiduciary responsibility towards our children to keep them from any action which they may grow up to regret. Withholding serving them meat until a time they can choose to consume it, for whatever reason, falls into one such responsibility. (A fiduciary responsibility is a commitment to act in the best interests of another person.) More than any other time in history, today meat-based diets are known to have far-reaching health and ethical implications. It’s not something we can simply brush aside saying I do it because I like it or it’s a way of life.
It is more than well established that animals are intelligent, sentient creatures who not only feel pain like humans but also have the will to live, memories, family connections and connections with other humans and ecosystem. There is a lot of research that shows why meat-eating is environmentally non-sustainable and highly inefficient, given the human population on earth. We also know that livestock contributes most to CO2 emissions and global warming. There is mounting evidence not just for plant-based diets being ethical but also as the healthier choice. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses. According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
We may have lived on earth as hunter-gatherers for thousands of years, but we have come far from that life now. There is a need that humans take a moral high ground to several topics like meat-eating than justify existing questionable moralities.
So, here is the point: Let’s suppose some children when they grow up, may come to endorse some variant of ethical vegetarianism, which holds that eating meat, or more broadly acting in a way that leads to increased demand for meat, is morally wrong. If they come to this conclusion, and if they have eaten meat up to this point, it follows that their parents’ actions in feeding them meat are likely to have had a corrupting effect on their moral integrity. And such actions by parents could have been easily avoidable.
The best approach would be for parents to withhold (or limit) meat from children until they are old enough to make their own decisions about consumption. Most meat-eaters are meat-eaters simply due to childhood and social conditioning and not by choice. So I strongly believe that at least, we, as parents, should acknowledge that there are moral costs to choosing to give meat to a child. Just like we withhold serving alcohol, cigarettes, adult entertainment or driving a car (even in limited amounts), we can withhold meat too.
Today we have enough awareness of nutritional substitutes for meat and we can afford to choose from them for our children. I followed this approach for our daughter. She has never been served meat or eggs. She is 10 now and healthy. And guess what? She chooses to be an ethical vegetarian; she reasoned her way to it, she understands it and she advocates it. And she thanks me for bringing her up as a vegetarian.
So coming back to the question, ‘Is meat right for children?’ Let us give children that freedom and a fair chance to think and decide for themselves.