“But I like eating fish!” said the vegetarian child.

With the internet at our fingertips the tendency to get straight onto Google, or a parent forum (whatever flavour you prefer) to seek advice is great. Even when you feel like you’ve basically got this whole parenting thing under control (ha! ha!).

One topic that seems to come up a lot in our house is food. What we eat, what other animals eat and why “tigers sometimes eat angry people”…

What’s on your plate?

We’ve had honest discussions about animals losing their habitat, using the range of non-fiction books we have to find answers to our big questions. We’ve used the images to learn more about different species and what they eat. I have made a conscious effort to use descriptive and honest language, as I tend to do in my interactions with her.

A couple of weeks back, my husband took our daughter to London Zoo and just as they were leaving she spotted some frozen rats that had been left out for the birds’ dinner. She was very upset and worried that the “baby mousies are sad”. I think Rich dealt with the conversation really well, he was semi-prepped after her obsession with the fish counter last summer (“They’re REAL fish, Mummy!”) and we had some advice from friends who have gone down the “spark” route – he explained that the rats had lost their spark and were not hurting now.

It also reminded her of what she knows about food and when she was retelling it all to me later on she explained that “birdie is happy and not hungry, his tummy need mousie. But mummy, the baby mouse is DEAD FOREVER”. I nearly cried. It’s saddening that she’s getting to be old enough to understand death and the grief that comes with it. But it also fills me with amazement that her brain is able to start to work through these huge ideas and express it all to me.

Trusting our instincts 

Just after this happened, once I had put her to bed and had time to think… I was tempted to look up books or advice about death and how to talk to toddlers. I even drafted a post in a Facebook group I love to read for advice, but I resisted. I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far with this difficult topic. I don’t want to complicate the situation further by trying to bring in other ideas. For now, I’m happy for her to know that some animals have to die for food because animals need different vitamins and minerals to keep them alive.

Teaching compassion and respect

We’re a vegan/vegetarian household but she still encounters meat eaters and I want to be respectful of their choices too. The way she talks about it all is so interesting to me; she’s picking up on the fact that other people feel they really do need those things in their diets. But, for the most part, I don’t think she feels she’s missing out on anything. She loves to eat. She’s asked for fish and has tried it but I don’t think this is the end of the world.

Where our food really comes from is a complex issue that I think a lot of adults would struggle with. So, I’m quite proud my daughter is starting to understand the process, in an age appropriate way. We won’t talk about our cat’s rabbit and chicken diet just yet – I don’t want her to be horrified by our pet!

ParentingAmy Benziane