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June/July 2005
Vegetarian Dadvocate: Raising a Vegetarian Daughter

By Jack Rosenberger



Regarding the silly photograph: Rani, Zoe and I stumbled across a celebration of Clifford the Big Red Dog at our local public library, and I wanted to have my picture taken with Clifford because I was in a decidedly unserious mood. However, the event photographer refused to take my picture with Clifford unless I was accompanied by a child; hence, Zoe’s presence.

What really surprised Zoe and I about Clifford is that for a canine who abides by the registered moniker of “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” Clifford, even though he’s standing upright on his rear two legs, doesn’t seem very big. Also, Zoe and I were taken aback by how sad he appears to be. I think (and I might be wrong about this) the library event celebrated the fact that Clifford had been recently neutered—that could well explain his despondent expression. Or perhaps Clifford, like any morally aware American citizen, is feeling distraught about President George W. Bush’s bloody war in Iraq.

When I study the photograph, it imparts several meanings to me. Based on the body language, it’s clear that Zoe and I have a close relationship. Also, I’m acting funny, and one of the things I’ve tried to teach Zoe is to enjoy being alive and, unless you’re at someone’s funeral, have fun and lots of it. In addition, it isn’t an accident that this photograph finds us at our local library. I’ve tried to teach Zoe a love of not only reading but of learning as an important, vital activity that should last one’s entire life.

One intangible element of the photograph: of the two people featured, nine year-old Zoe is the only one who has been a vegetarian since birth. (I became a vegetarian during college.) It was very easy for Rani, who’s also a vegetarian, and I to make the decision to raise our daughter as a vegetarian. However, whether Zoe remains a vegetarian for the rest of her life is another matter. That’s her decision, not ours.

A Positive Influence
There is little in the world that is more important to me than Zoe being a vegetarian. As her father, I have worked very hard to raise Zoe as a vegetarian and would love for her to remain one for her entire life. A lot of what I have done is simple parenting and coaching techniques. Offer sincere and honest praise. Reinforce a sense of vegetarian culture and identity. Convey the meaning and importance of being a vegetarian.

During the working week (which now seems for many Americans to last seven days), one of my favorite parts of the day is the eight-and-a-half minute walk that Zoe and I take from our home to her grade school each morning. On a typical school morning, I will leave the house first and tarry in the front yard or driveway, having grown slightly impatient of waiting for Zoe. Eventually she will rush out the front door, walk about ten steps, then plunk her purple backpack on the wet lawn, so she can double check the contents to make sure she hasn’t forgotten a library book or her homework.

Once we manage to leave our cul-de-sac, however, our progress increases. By the time Zoe and I hit the second of the five streets we must negotiate to reach her grade school, we are holding hands, her left in my right, and conversing. Although our walk is short, it’s a time of the day I love and cherish. Zoe and I are together by ourselves, outdoors and physically and emotionally close. Just the two of us.

Our morning walks are an opportunity for me to share life lessons, and to learn about what she is thinking and what is happening, good or bad, in her life. My main aim during these walks, though, is to act as a positive influence. I will frequently tell Zoe that I am proud of her because she is academically excelling in school, playing well on her soccer team, or because she is a vegetarian. “Everyone,” I’ve told her, “would love to have you as their daughter. But they can’t.”

One way I provide a sense of vegetarian identity and culture to Zoe is to point out vegetarian people, especially famous ones. When Paul McCartney performed at the last Super Bowl half-time show, for instance, I made sure Zoe knew he is a vegetarian. In fact, I have done this type of thing so regularly that one day soon I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time I mention that Elvis Costello or so-and-so is a vegetarian, Zoe will unload her newfound sardonic sense of humor upon me.

Usually, though, I’m more creative. When I read about the Jewish holiday of Purim to Zoe, I occasionally add a vegetarian flavor to the tale. In the story of Purim, a beautiful Jewish woman named Esther marries the king of Persia. However, the king doesn’t know his new wife is Jewish. His advisor, Haman, tricks the king into believing that the Jews in his kingdom are dangerous and must be killed. The king agrees to implement Haman’s plan. Esther learns of Haman’s intentions and is confronted with a moral choice: to speak up or remain silent.

Esther tells the king that she is Jewish and persuades him to leave the Jews alone and punish Haman. When I tell the story of Purim to Zoe at bedtime, I change the name of the queen from Esther to Zoe. Sometimes the queen is Jewish; other times, she’s a vegetarian. Zoe plays along with me and asks that the king be named Ryan, her boyfriend. A boy in Zoe’s grade sometimes teases Zoe about being a vegetarian, so Haman becomes “Peter” (not his real name).

Another way I reinforce Zoe’s vegetarian identity is by making vegetarianism an integral part of our family life. For instance, we recently adopted a third cat, a kitten who Zoe named Taffy. The other morning while Zoe was brushing her hair in front of a bathroom mirror she told Rani and I that she had left a cat treat for Taffy on the kitchen windowsill. “Please don’t move it,” she told us. “It’s a special treat for Taffy.” Jokingly I told Zoe, “It hurts my feelings that you never share your cat treats with me.” She stopped combing her tangled mass of red hair and said, “Ah, Dad, you wouldn’t like it. It’s chicken.”

I poked my head in the bathroom and said, with a few tablespoons of mock horror in my voice, “Do you mean Taffy’s not a vegetarian?”

Even Rani, who is sometimes exposed to more of my humor than any spouse legally should be, laughed. So far, my parenting efforts appear to be working. Zoe is a sturdy and proud vegetarian. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Zoe frequently says, “I want to be the first Jewish, vegetarian, female president of the United States.” When she says this, I always smile. Between you and me, however, I think she can do much better.



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