The news, and subsequently all of my social network feeds, were overwhelmed in the last few days by the “revelation” that processed meat products are high in cancer causing carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research division of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The information isn’t new as the IARC reviewed more than 800 studies spanning over 20 years investigating any link between more than a dozen types of cancer with eating meat in nearly 80 counties (capturing countless diet variations). In many cases much more than a casual correlation between processed meat or red meat in which the “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation” would show an increased risk of the identified forms of cancer according to WHO.
This, of course, raised no eyebrows except for those who distrust science and statistical mathematics already, such as the tin foil hatters and the huge food stuffs business in the US that will certainly opine on how this will hurt their profits firstly and then maybe in a distance second lament how they would never do anything to hurt their customers (even though nearly every one of them has been caught red handed doing just that).
For me, I am an omnivore. I always have been. Apart from a select few foods I will readily eat just about anything. That doesn’t mean I eat everything all of the time. Generally my diet leans pescitarian-to-vegetarian and even though I am a creature of habit in so many ways I also crave variety and enjoy the pleasant surprises that come with straying off from the habitual path and enjoying something different in occasional moderation.
My wife on the other hand is vegetarian. She has been since she was a teenager and at point even leaned vegan. There’s a number of reasons the lifestyle beckons her and that’s for her to express as she’s interested in sharing it. I support her motives and try to be as respectful as I can about my own carnivorous ways which really isn’t all that difficult because I do love preparing vegetarian dishes and dining out at creative vegan restaurants.
Our dog is also a vegetarian. I know what you’re about to say. “WTF, a veggie dog? Seriously.” Yes, seriously. “You know that’s not natural, right?” Define natural… How close are most domesticated animals to their wild ancestors that your specially bread dog is so “natural”? How much of that store bought processed “meat” food is close to what the wild ancestors eat? Did you know the order Carnivora are ominvores and certain species are predominantly herbavor during their lifecycle or that domestic dogs can suffer from a range of food allergy, intolerances and sensitivities many of which are related to meat and meat products? Our dog doesn’t eat meat because it doesn’t suit him. As a matter of fact, he seems to do much better without it.
This often leads to the question, one I’ve fielded a lot the last few days, of if we’re going to raise the little one as a veggie.
Honestly, we don’t know yet.
There’s no doubt that the household itself will be vegetarian friendly. It has to be in order to support my wife and our dog, and even to support the vast majority of what I eat.
However, we aren’t going to force vegetarianism on the kid any more than we would want to force them to be an omnivore. The important thing isn’t getting caught up in the particulars of what they eat as long as they are eating a balanced and nutritious diet.
In the beginning it will be up to us as parents to provide that framework. Our goal will be to expose them to a wide variety of tastes. We know most kids are going to gravitate to certain ones because of an immature palette, of peer pressure, of commercialization of certain food products, or just because they know it will illicit certain reactions from us. We’ll have to learn how to deal with their changing preferences as part of our parenting skill set. It will mean facing tantrums of not wanting to eat, or overindulgence of only wanting one thing, of hiding food to snack on later and throwing food out to get around not eating it. That’s all difficult enough at times without the concerns of vegetarian versus omnivore.
They will be given the freedom at a certain point in life to eat whatever they see fit. When that point in life is will greatly depend on when they reach a level of maturity and responsibility to make such a decision.
When we were young we ate the food that was given to us. That’s where we’ll start. They will be given more than ample opportunity to eat vegetables, grains and other plant products but also the occasional option to include meats and fishes and poultry. Those occasions will probably seem more like deserts and other sweet treats than the normal course of consumption because that’s how the household already functions. If that early on experience helps set the tone for their eating habits I think the whole family would be fine with it. If they follow their dad and are omnivores that’s fine, or if they follow mom into the world of being a vegetarian that’s great too. If we need to figure out some other meal architecture we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Pretty much as long as they gain a healthy respect for food on the whole we’ll be happy with the experience of sharing meals with them.
If that seems pretty wishy-washy 70’s touchy feely about how we’re thinking we are going to present food to the kids, well, that’s probably not far off. In a lot of ways, it is going to be up to the kid what lifestyle they will take up. We will provide a foundation but at a certain point when they gain the experience it will be up to them to build up from that foundation within reason.
Obviously, a two year old isn’t going to get free reign to go on the fast food diet of their choice but if when they reach 18 they want to try to subsist on Taco Bell only, by all means give it a whirl. In that interim between infancy and early adulthood our job will be to influence them in positive ways.
It’s more about teaching them to have respect for both their body and that of the sources of their food. To provide an understanding of the physical and psychological aspects of consumption and how it affects both self-perception and social interaction. To give context to what healthy eating consists of and how to minimize waste. Whether they learn these traits as herbivores or omnivores matters less than if they are able to make good overall decisions about their relationship with food.