But before any of these inquiries are but a twinkle in Isaac's eye, I know I'm going to face an interrogation about vegetarianism. At some point soon, he'll ask why our family doesn't eat this stuff called "meat" that's everywhere.
I have my substantive answers already lined up, so I'm not worried about what I'll tell him. (We don't eat meat because it's unhealthy, environmentally irresponsible, expensive and inhumane.) With this question, I'm more concerned about the prompting. Why is he almost certainly going to ask at such an early age?
I think I know the answer -- and it's not the ad campaigns that make meat seem like a rational choice ("Beef: It's What's for Dinner"), a healthy alternative food ("Pork: The Other White Meat") or a compassionate cuisine decision (Chik-fil-A's billboards, which show a cow begging you to spare his life by choosing chicken). No, Isaac's going to have questions because of the grocery -- more specifically, because of the vegetarian aisle that subliminally glorifies meat-eating.
I realize that sounds like an oxymoron, but the next time you go shopping, imagine what a kid gleans from veggie burgers, veggie bacon, veggie sausage patties, veggie hot dogs, Tofurky and all the other similar fare that defines a modern plant-based diet. While none of it contains meat, it's all marketed as emulating meat. In advertising terms, that's the "unique selling proposition" -- to give you the epicurean benefits of meat without any of meat's downsides.
Obviously, this isn't some conspiracy whereby powerful meat companies are deliberately trying to bring vegetarians into the megachurch of flesh eaters. If anything, it's the opposite: It's the vegetarian industry selling itself to meat eaters by suggesting that its products aren't actually all that different from meat. The problem is how that message, like so many others in American culture, reinforces the wrongheaded notion that our diet should be fundamentally based on meat.
For those who have chosen to be vegetarians, this message is merely annoying. But for those like Isaac who are being raised as vegetarians, the message is downright subversive. It teaches them that as tasty as vegetarian food may be, it can never compete with the "real thing."
That message will undoubtedly inform Isaac's early curiosity -- and maybe his questions won't be such a bad thing. Maybe they'll motivate me to spend more time in the supermarket's raw produce section, and maybe my ensuing discussion with Isaac will help him better understand why our family has made this culinary choice.
However, that doesn't mean the subtle propaganda won't ultimately win out, thus adding another carnivore to a destructively meat-centric society. (David Sirota, “Why do vegetarian products glorify meat,” Salon, 19 August 2011)
If you grew up loving your turkey dinners, if some of your favorite childhood memories are of the times around the succulent-meat-a-plenty table or excursions to eat fatty steak, burgers, or prime ribs, then you remain fidelitous to the good things in your past when you choose Tofurky and veggie bacon after really connecting with and deeply caring about the truth that it is a terrible thing to kill animals for sustenance. For you, it isn't transition but fidelity to the blessed things of your past that were very much part of the furnishings for the love that made you care. Though it might be even more mature, to move on entirely might well in fact for you be about birthing a new kind of inorganic rupture and violence.