Maaike Moulijn
My mother became a vegetarian when she was 19, after a teaching practice in a calf farm where they had calves in crates, and where she saw how these animals were treated before ending up at the butcher's. This experience made such a big impression on her that she decided to stop eating meat (from animals that are treated that way).
Some years later I was born, and of course I was raised as a vegetarian (although my father does eat meat, in this case: long live traditional role patterns). Until I was four or five years old I wasn't aware of differences in vision and eating patterns between me and my peers. When I did start noticing, which was at birthdays where I was introduced to sausages and hot dogs, my mother explained to us in a way we could understand why she wouldn't eat meat. She let me (and my brothers and sisters) choose whether we wanted to follow her example. The consequence was that at birthday parties I refused to eat meat, while my sisters would feast on it. My classmates found it very strange (I was the only vegetarian they knew) but they never teased me about it. On the contrary, I made a lot of children think about their own eating patterns.
When I was seven or eight years old my mother took me (it sounds harsh but it was very educational) to a meat pig farm. Then I could see with my own eyes why she decided long ago to stop eating meat. That has made such an impression on me that I was better able to voice my own opinion, and that I could tell from my own experience why I didn't want to eat meat. My classmates were interested in my stories, because they had never looked at their food in that light. Many of their parents were farmers (or family of farmers) and a number of the children were absolutely against vegetarianism (influenced or not), but as long as my arguments were reasonable they accepted my attitude toward meat. Some of the other children followed my example, some more successfully than others. When I went to eat at a friend's house or on a school trip I couldn't expect to be presented with any sort of gourmet cooking: a boiled or fried egg and some cheese were all the cooking parents could think of.
With the coming of soy burgers it has become much easier for a meat-eating family to offer an alternative to a vegetarian child.
When I was eleven or twelve I did a class presentation on vegetarianism. That is another means to make this a subject for discussion in the classroom, and for the child to explain why they want to be a vegetarian. In high school, vegetarianism was much more known and normal, so I had to explain less about what it means and why I had chosen not to eat meat anymore.
At university there are more discussions on the subject of vegetarianism, and people are very open to argumentation. But these arguments need to be clearer and better than in elementary school. There are more vegetarians around me, as a consequence of all the disasters around BSE and also because people are more open to other life perceptions, and because they can determine their own eating patterns (something you cannot say about children).
I started a cooking club together with some other vegetarians (vegafoodgroup), and in a group we cook a huge vegetarian meal (we call it Holle Bolle Gijs) about once a year for approximately twenty to thirty people (usually non-vegetarians). Everybody enjoys the meeting and the food, and this way they all accept that the food is vegetarian!!!
I think the conclusion is that I have always had to give a clear explanation and reasons for my vegetarianism (and cook tasty meals later on), but that my vision was always accepted.
In my opinion, a child can only defend his own vision when he or she is really convinced. That's why you have to make children understand why you yourself have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle, maybe give other reasons as well, and then leave it to the child whether they want to become on themselves. You cannot force a child to copy your lifestyle. But when a child makes a conscious choice (which is the big difference with having red hair or being chubby), then I can hardly imagine that other children won't accept this opinion from a classmate or friend...

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