When I was a kid, I had a very cool babby house in a shed at my parents house, with a proper couch and china plates. I fed my brothers and cousins, and my cousin's cousins imaginary food for years. A healthy diet of 'everything-with-sand'. It was a versatile staple in those days - sand tea, rather impressive tiered cakes, you name it - If you could shape it out of sand, I made it.
I had a dolls cot in there too. Usually my dolls slept in it (probably in very damp bedclothes, but they never complained). From time to time, the dolls would be replaced with a dead animal, usually a rabbit, or a kitten, that I would find on the lawn or on the farm. I would take its rigid little body and will it back to life in my cot, wrapped in blankets. While I can picture this clearly, I have no memory of how the animals looked after a few days. I guess my parents disposed of then when they started to decompose. I didn't think there was anything odd about this at all, but one day, I remember a cousins older cousin peering at the latest dead rabbit, cosily wrapped in blankets and looking at me in horror and saying 'THE RABBIT IS DEAD'. He may have been stating the obvious, but it was a bit of a shock to little pigtailed me. I remember feeling silly.
Obviously having a thing for bunny rabbits, I couldn't watch the animated film 'Watership Down', without having nightmares about rabbits being ripped apart. Even now, hearing Art Garfunkel's 'Bright Eyes', will have me in tears.
As anyone growing up on a farm with sheep, we had lots of pet lambs, mostly lambs whose mothers had died, or who didn't have enough milk for multiple lambs. We had one lamb in particular, Tubby, named because he was a large fella, who lapped up the bottled milk. We never took Tubby aside and told him that he was a lamb, so he thought that he was a dog. He ran up the stairs in our house and chased cars. I can still see him charging around the house when visitors would arrive. And I can see the visitors legging it back into their car as a rather large lamb came running towards them.
I can remember the day that Tubby was killed. It is my Jodie Foster moment in the film 'The Silence of the Lambs', when she recounts being woken to the sound of Spring lambs being slaughtered on a relative's farm. I came home from school and there was thick, congealed blood on an old orange door on the ground down the yard. Apparently Tubby had taken ill while we were in school. I never believed the story. I actually don't know what happened that day, but I guess that some time later, I ate my childhood buddy for dinner.
So, I guess the seeds were sown at an early age for me being a vegetarian.
I went to a meat factory in Ballyjamesduff with my father, a beef farmer, for the first time when I was 15 years of age. I didn't go into the factory, but I could smell the blood and sense the fear in the animals. There was a large conveyor belt, with the hides of animals coming out and flopping into a big container. I had chicken for dinner that day, but vowed to myself never to eat meat again. At first, people thought it was a phase. Veggie options in the last 80's was mostly meat-and-two-veg, without the meat.
All these years later, eating out isn't much fun, especially in hotels. The veggie option is usually a pasta with a heavy cream sauce. It appears that chefs think us veggies like stodge. Come on, a little imagination please people !!
I had a memorable lunch in the canteen in the IT in Athlone a few years ago, where I was attending a meeting. Being a college with hip and happening young adults, I assumed there would be a decent veggie option. I asked the lady serving what the veggie option was. She offered me chicken or fish. I explained that I a vegetarian. Her response - 'Are you on a diet, love ?'.
When my babies were born, I wanted them to be vegetarian too. I know that it raised eyebrows, but ethically, I felt that it was the right thing to do, but also, I felt that it was a healthier option for them. They both thrived on it. They also had rather exceptional poos. (Another revelation that they can sue me for in later years). I've always been brutally honest with them about meat and how animals are killed. Maybe too honest, some would say, but then again, I've been honest about everything else (except Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, etc)
I was worried about how the children would cope when they went to other people's houses, or to parties, but it has never been an issue (Apart from the memorable time when my mother unwittingly gave Leon some fish in a restaurant on Mother's Day - five minutes later he got sick ALL OVER my dress. Thankfully I was wearing a double layers thingie). I overheard the children at a party one day, when they were still very small, explaining to the host that they were 'fedgeitarians', because 'it's not nice to eat meat'.
It is hard to be 100% vegetarian. Gelatine is in so many sweets, that are readily handed to children, so we have compromised on that one. And we wear leather. Maybe you feel that I'm a hypocrite, but hey, we are all full of contradictions.
The children's friends were over last week. There was some meat burgers in the freezer and their little friends dined on them. Later than night, Leon announced that he wanted to eat meat, like Tom and Joe. As it happened, there was some picnic ham in the fridge. I gave him a slice. His eyes were wide open, the boy with the forbidden fruit presented to him. I told him that I didn't mind if he ate it (but gently reminded him what ham was made from). He has a wee taste. Not impressed. He said that he might like it if it was hot. So I heated it for him. Not impressed. He tried meat sausages. Didn't like them either.
We were in my parents last week. They were eating roast lamb for dinner. Leon asked me again about eating meat. Having my 'Silence of the Lambs'esque flashbacks, I must say, the thought of him eating lamb, of all things, makes me feel nauseous, but I said nothing and he forgot about it. He hasn't mentioned eating meat since, but I'm sure that the conversation will arise again. Right now, my wee woman on the other hand, has no interest in eating, or tasting meat.
Long term, I don't know if my children will be veggie, but at least they have had a good start.