Look at Life: Vegetarian Teens

6th May 2016

Teenagers Making Meaty Decisions: Properly Principled or a Proper Pain?

by Heather Harris

As we approach National Vegetarian Week (16-24 May), I’m reminded of one of the best responses I’ve heard from a parent faced with an adolescent announcing their desire to give up meat: ‘But you don’t like vegetables!…”

The teenager came back, quick as a microwaved pea, to declare her passion for ‘broccoli and roast potatoes’, and to assert that they could form the basis of a healthy, balanced diet.

Now I doubt that even Delia could invent seven main meals involving these two basic ingredients – but to her credit my friend has risen to the challenge, stockpiling chickpeas and tins of coconut milk. She uses them inventively, in a repertoire of dishes that “all look like curry”, pleasing not only her principled daughter but also her husband and son. “Well I wasn’t going to cook a separate meal for the rest of
us,” she tells me as, open mouthed, I try to imagine serving my husband a meal that doesn’t involve at least one major piece of livestock.

You see, I do have a vested interest in my friend’s experience. Ever since my 19-year-old daughter began a college farming course, one animal at a time has disappeared from the Harris menu.
Ironically, when cows were on the syllabus and she was visiting slaughterhouses in Period Two on a Wednesday, for tea I had beef sausages waiting in batter, refusing to disguise themselves as toads.

Over Easter the traditional roast lamb lay guiltily in the oven as my daughter was off delivering triplets and bottle-feeding the ones the mother sheep had rejected. And the students have all been given one of the college chickens to name… and sadly my daughter didn’t call hers ‘casserole’, ‘coronation’ or even ‘nugget’.

Luckily, the syllabus doesn’t include duck plucking or fish farming so we can still enjoy a communal Chinese takeaway complete with crispy quackers, and she will happily sink a tuna pasta bake (so long as I buy dolphin friendly).

But it is another worrying issue – to add to sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and the internet – facing an increasing number of modern parents, as today’s youngsters become more aware of the health, environmental and ethical issues of swallowing our four and two legged friends. According to a report by Mintel, 20% of all 16-24 year olds are now not eating meat.

One local mother is clear what’s at the root of her 15-year-old daughter’s dietary decision. “Recently they did a topic at school about the environment and the health issues concerning our Western diet and suddenly all our children came home condemning carnivores. It’s the latest fad!”

Confronted with the whiff of a bacon sandwich many will crumble and become ‘flexitarians’ –the latest scientific name for ‘fussy’, officially defined as ‘cutting back substantially on the amount of meat they eat… but not quite going the whole hog’.

For the minority that stick to their guns – and their couscous – doctors warn of the need to up the protein levels of teenagers with nuts, lentils, beans and all those other fibrous items guaranteed to set the pulses racing.

Then there’s that meat substitute which according to Mo Farah makes him run faster (one might ask where to...?) but does tend to resemble the worst of 70s school dinners crossed with dog food.

Personally, I respect anyone who can continue with a non-meat diet longer than it takes to pull a piece of pork. I also admire those parents who support their teenagers through thick and thin (actually is there such thing as a fat vegetarian?). I just worry that for some youngsters it’s less about health and ethics and more about making their parents jump through hoops (ideally spaghetti) so that they can be in with the ‘in crowd’.

And we all know what happens with fads. Just look at One Direction – one day they’re the hottest thing on the menu, and the next they’ve been left on the compost heap. There’s an interesting thought for our offspring to chew over, perhaps?

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