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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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;
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
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
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.