I love Hadley Freeman, a writer for the Guardian – the woman has a way with words which makes my heart beat a little faster. She is funny and entertaining and I read everything she writes and wait for the next thing with eager anticipation. She wrote a piece titled How to Parent Girls: My Guide to Health and Happiness and one point she made was to urge parents to try and prevent their daughters becoming vegetarians until they were at least 16:
Obviously not all vegetarians become anorexic and not all anorexics are vegetarian (although in my experience, in regards to the latter part of that sentence, there is a heavy overlap). But vegetarianism encourages people to divide foods between the good and the bad, and it then becomes a legitimate means of limiting one’s diet. Your daughter has a whole lifetime ahead of her to think of food as something other than a pleasurable physical necessity. Why let her start early?
When I first read this my initial thought was: I don’t understand. Literally, because I don’t. I was raised a vegetarian* and never once in my childhood was I grateful to this because it meant I was thinner than my meat-eating friends. It never even occurred to me. Rightly or wrongly I thought I was healthier because I ate more vegetables than them and that was about it. I never saw vegetarianism as an easy way of developing an eating disorder or as something which made food less pleasurable.
Seriously, just because I am a vegetarian doesn’t mean I don’t like food or don’t get pleasure from eating – I always have and always will. I never saw my diet as being ‘legitimately limited’ because I always ate as much as I wanted, usually until I was bursting and loved every bite. I never missed out on eating meat because I didn’t care about it – it was never something more than foodstuffs I didn’t eat and other people did.
I also never thought of meat as being something ‘bad’. When I was younger I never ate it because it was never cooked in the house and not because flesh was evil incarnate. When I grew up and realized that just because meat isn’t cooked in my house doesn’t mean I can’t eat it, I did. I tried everything except beef and fish** and then decided that I rather be a vegetarian.
I have never felt my diet is limited because I don’t eat meat. Ever. Not while I was growing up and not now when I am all grown up. If you do feel this way about meat why don’t you just eat it? Because in that respect I agree with Hadley, women and men (but mostly women) spend way too much time agonizing over what they are allowed to and not allowed to eat according to the latest dieting trend and that if you can prevent your daughter from doing this for as long as possible then you have a tick in the Good Parent column.
Hadley writes about vegetarianism as if it is it a means to an end, in this case the end being thinness and eating disorders. Especially in young girls. I can’t speak for those who convert to vegetarianism but I can speak for me and I am not a vegetarian to be thin; I am a veggie because I want to be a veggie. The end of vegetarianism is vegetarianism itself. If your daughter wants to be a vegetarian, let her. If you worry about her thinking of some types of food as being bad or loosing weight make sure that the vegetarian food she eats is as calorific as the meat equivalent (ridiculously easy to do what with all the cheese and bread and chocolate flying about the place) and do what my parents did – always make sure she has the choice to eat whatever she likes.
Because being a vegetarian isn’t the way Hadley describes it – it doesn’t make you class some foods as bad, they are just foods you don’t eat. And there is a difference between the two because you don’t have to think of something as being bad to not do it. And just because you don’t do it, doesn’t mean you don’t get pleasure from what you do do.***
*Mum fed me chicken flavoured baby food when I was a kid. I also loved Prawn Cocktail flavoured crisps. Does this count as non-vegetarianism even though there probably was no chicken or prawn cocktail in the flavouring?
**Beef because that is one tenant of Hinduism I wholly agree with and fish because I could never get past the smell
*** Ooh, we went all into sex there didn’t we?