My 6-year-old daughter takes a timid bite of hotdog, and I’m half repulsed, half brimming with pride. To my eye, this “meat” is limp, lifeless, devoid of nutrition, toxic; it will never pass my lips. But the same hotdog also represents hope. Maybe my kids won’t be like me after all.
Let’s get one thing straight right off: I did not prepare the hotdog. A friend did, at a neighborhood barbecue. I would never buy hotdogs, or ground beef, wormy, dead-colored, and blood soaked, or chicken breasts, slick and jello-like. I’ve never cooked a rack of lamb, or a sirloin steak. My three children don’t sit down to dinners of chicken a la anything. Because in case you haven’t picked up on this, I find meat repulsive.
Let’s get another thing straight: Loathing meat is a horrible way to live. I stopped eating meat of any kind nearly 20 years ago, following a deeply scarring incident with meatloaf cordon bleu, and soon thereafter, a vile encounter with a ligament in a chicken breast. Since then, I have starved my way through countless barbecues, baseball games, and holiday dinners that offer nothing for me to eat, save for the occasional dry bun, or lettuce leaf.
And I want things to be easier for my kids. Let them bite hungrily into the hamburger at the block party. Please, enjoy the chicken wings at the game. Thanksgiving turkey, may you not induce a gag reflex in my offspring!
Indeed, I shudder at the thought of hearing my children make the same embarrassed excuses I do when we’re invited over to a friend’s house for dinner. “No, I’m fine. You had no way of knowing I don’t eat pork.”
I cringe imagining my girls ordering food in a restaurant in that Sally Albright way I do. “Can I have the chicken bacon salad, but without the chicken, or the bacon? Yes, I understand that’s basically just lettuce, then. Thanks.”
But I am all too aware that my dietary predispositions influence how my kids view meat. Even my 3-year-old knows mommy doesn’t eat it. And although I try to hold my tongue when my husband orders a skirt steak at dinner, my face contorts itself almost by reflex.
Then consider that I don’t prepare many carnivorous courses for my family. How could I, when the act of forming hamburger patties would bring me to tears? Although I do toss the infrequent chicken nugget or fish stick onto their plates, but this is done more as a time saving measure than a nod to my culinary combatant.
It isn’t lost on me that kids benefit from the protein and iron meat offers, another reason I, admittedly feebly, attempt to incorporate a lone grilled chicken burrito into my children’s menu. But at most meal times, I don’t stray too far out of my comfort zone of eggs, cheese, peanut butter, tofu, and greens. It’s delicious, healthy food we are lucky enough to have easy access to! That we eat more kale than brisket in our house is hardly a problem on par with starving children in Africa.
Still, I worry my limited diet will adversely impact my kids, like I’m an agoraphobic, assuring my daughters the outside world is just swell! Mostly, I want to give my kids the freedom to develop their own relationship with food, one far different from my antagonistic attitude toward all things once alive.
So back at the neighborhood party, I resist the urge to rip the hotdog out of my daughter’s hands, and I quietly eat my third corn on the cob; thanks to whoever brought them.