Tara and Diana: Growing Up Vegetarian

Diana and Tara Pozo, interviewed by Dilip Barman

In September, I had the pleasure of talking with Tara and Diana Pozo, TVS members living in Raleigh. I wanted to get their perspective of what it is like growing up vegetarian. Both have been (ovo-lacto) vegetarians their whole lives. Tara, a second grader, turned 8 a few weeks after the interview, and Diana is in fifth grade, soon to be 11 years old. They both attend the private Raleigh School.

Orion ("Dad") and Sabina ("Mom") joined TVS "because we had children that we wanted to raise vegetarian. We wanted them to know that they weren't weird and that there were other people who were vegetarian. We want to be able to take part in potlucks and vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners and things like that." Though they have an affinity for veganism, "we decided when the kids were born that we'd raise them ovo-lacto so they would have the easiest time fitting in."

It was exciting for me to see how in fact these two don't consider themselves, and aren't perceived by others, as being unusual. They were enthusiastic about sharing their story and I think we all had a lot of fun, as I hope you will too in reading this interview.

{Diana has 12 people in her class- the smallest in the school. Tara has 22 which is the maximum for the school. Diana is 10 and will be 11 on October 28. Tara was 7 at the time of the interview but turned 8 on October 30.}

Particularly for children raised vegetarian, it might come as a surprise that others eat dead animals. As Anthony Weston and Amy Halberstadt, and Audrey Nickel discussed in this issue's two cover stories, parents have to also consider what their veggie kids might say to their meat 'n potatoes friends.

Dilip: When did you first find out that everybody isn't a vegetarian?
Tara: I don't know.
Diana: Very young because Mom and Dad would buy me food toys. Sometimes these food toys would come with meat. A lot of the meat that we had, we left it down underneath the deck and its all dirty and all that kind of stuff.
Dilip: Ugh!
Diana: But I think the only kind of meat food toy we have right now...
Tara: ...is bacon
Diana: ...is the bacon that Tara got in this breakfast set. And then there's this fish, this whole fish, that says "FISH" on it.
Dilip: But my question was that since you were born vegetarian I guess that you just assume that's how everyone eats. When did find out that some people don't eat vegetarian or when did you first find out what meat was?
Diana: I think I first found out what meat was when I was, like, three. And when I told Rachel, which I wasn't supposed to do is what Mom said, Rachel said, "I'm not eating any meat! I don't want to eat cute farm animals!" But she couldn't give up being a meat eater.
Mom: Diana would call meat "animals" while other children would call it "meat", and the other children would get upset.
Diana: Normally people don't find out when they're meat eaters that meat is animals until they've been eating it for so long that they can't give it up.
Dilip: Why do you prefer to be vegetarian?
Tara: Well, if you stop eating meat, it might make a difference in stopping to kill animals. These animals are being treated wrong. At some farms they take care of the animals very well and the animals think that they are going to have a happy life. And then they kill them.
Dilip: So you object to eating meat because you have to kill animals? How about you, Diana?
Diana: If people had to kill their own animals I don't think there would be very many meat eaters. Another thing is that I don't have very much of a strong opinion about this. It would just be very inconvenient for {bold}me{/bold} to be a meat eater because my mom and dad are vegetarians. Tara is a vegetarian. And if anybody went out and bought meat it would be like, "Ewww, gross! You're grossing me out." Another thing is that I would have to prepare it and I don't like handling meat. I just don't.
DL: Because you find that its dirty or gross?
D: Its just very smelly and gross. Just gross. The concept that somebody killed an animal and you're handling this animal's flesh. Yuck.

Dilip: Let's move on to some practical matters. Do you take your own lunch or do you buy lunch at school?
[Both talk about not having a cafeteria and so having to bring their own lunches.]
Dilip: So school isn't really a problem because you bring your own food. When you go to a birthday party do you tell your friends that you're a vegetarian before you go to be sure you'll have food? Have you ever had any problems?
Tara: Sometimes at a birthday part you have a choice of... there's only one vegetarian choice and then a bunch of meat choices. Like one time I went to a birthday party you could get a hot dog or pizza. And then if you got pizza you could have the choice of pepperoni or cheese. Obviously you know what I got.
Diana: A lot of times when people bring a pizza to school they bring one cheese pizza and two different kinds, like sausage and pepperoni. I find myself very fortunate because everyone in my class likes cheese pizza. So everybody gets a piece of cheese pizza and then there's like two pieces of cheese pizza left and guess who gets the last pieces of cheese pizza? Thats me. And Emma H. We two are the vegetarians in the class.
Dilip: I was thinking of going to someone's house for a birthday party.
Diana: Everyone in my class knows that I'm a vegetarian because I've been with them since first grade. But sometimes in first grade I would have to tell people I was a vegetarian so they would order some cheese pizza. But now they order cheese pizza anyway.

Clearly there are more and more children who are vegetarian. Neither child thought they were "weird" to be vegetarian, nor found others to think it odd.

Dilip: How many vegetarians do you know?
Tara: I know a lot because a lot of people in my class are like Rebbecca and Anna and I know a lot of other people.
Dilip: What do your friends think? When you tell people to think of you as being strange or cool?
Tara: I don't know.
Diana: I've never had a person in my class think it was weird. Most people don't think that much of it becasue it isn't very much different. Other people in my class aren't sort of strongly addicted to meat. Amy ... went to McDonalds two weeks ago and "I had one hamburger, and I had french fries and chicken nuggets and for two weeks afterward I never ate any meat" because she just normally doesn't eat meat.
Tara: A lot of people don't give me their opinion. The teacher asks me alot if I eat eggs and milk because of the vegetarian thing. Because we did an egg tasting last year. Everybody had to bring in a dish that had eggs in it.

Relatives who are "meat eaters" can become a problem for some families who are raising their children as vegetarians. Sometimes birthday parties can be difficult, as well. Tara mentioned that she had "five experiences with meat; two of them I didn't like".

Dilip: What were those experiences?
Tara: Well, the two experiences that I remember that I didn't like were pork chops and chicken. And I didn't like those.
Dilip: Why did you eat them?
Tara: I was just trying it because I was experimenting. I went to my aunt's house for dinner and they are meat eaters. They were having pork chops .... I decided to try it. And it wasn't very good.
Diana: The other thing was probably hot dogs because . . .
Tara: It tasted exactly like the veggie hotdogs. I've tried pepperoni. I prefer to have mushrooms on my pizza.
Dilip: Why did you have pepperoni? Was it at a birthday party?
Tara: Yes, it was at a birthday party and it was the only kind.
Dilip: You said you had five experiences, two of which you didn't like. Does that mean that you liked the other experiences?
Tara: Well they were OK. They weren't bad.
Diana: They weren't so pleasing that you'd give up being a vegetarian just to have this kind of meal.
Tara (to Diana): Have you had any experiences with meat?
Diana: I tried bacon once. It was ABSOLUTELY yucky. It was just a little piece this big [spreads fingers a few inches]. A lot of my friends don't know that because they never ask me, "Have you ever tried meat?"

Dilip: It sounds like you don't find it to be a big deal or difficult to be a vegetarian - certainly not at home, certainly not at school where you pack your own lunch. It doesn't seem like at parties you've ever really had a problem.
Tara: No no no no. [singing]
Dilip: Do you have a problem when you go to visit non-vegetarian relatives?
Diana: I did that one Thanksgiving! ... We went to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving. ... Tara was very young. She doesn't remember.
Tara: I don't remember.
Diana: ... I remember going to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving. In all the pictures you see people sitting around a big turkey, literally a turkey, that hasn't been cut up. I was surprised to find that they didn't have a big turkey - they had turkey shreddings.
Dilip: Did you find that gross?
Diana: It was very weird because I didn't expect turkey to be white. I expected it to be brown. ... It was white, which I found kind of gross.
Dilip: Did she want you to eat some turkey?
Diana: If it was Babba she would have wanted us to eat some turkey but it wasn't Babba so we went to Grandma's house.

Both of the children have a good idea of non-vegetarian ingredients.

Diana: ... [In school sometimes,] it was like, "We're going to have jello for a special treat!" And I was like, "I don't eat jello".
Dilip: Why don't you eat jello?
Tara: Gelatin has animal in it.
Diana: Gelatin has animal bones. We're kind of strict in that respect. But Tara eats jelly beans and gummi bears.
Dilip: Do gummi bears have animal products in them? I actually didn't know that.
Tara: They have gelatin.
Diana: I find jello very gross and I don't particularly like gummi bears.
Tara: I grossed out my friends. I kept on telling them about the way the food... The true things about food.
Diana: They take these leftover pig parts and they stuff them in hotdogs and stuff them in tubing...
Dilip: What do you do if some of your friends may want to go out to McDonald's or Burger King and...
Tara: I eat french fries.
Dilip: But that's not much of a meal.
Diana: In preschool there was this one kid who had a McDonald's birthday party. Now, what is the worst thing that can happen to me? It's a McDonald's birthday party. So, it was just not very comfortable for me. It was preschool and I remember, "What am I gonna eat?" I remember asking Mom, "Well, can't we just bring vegetarian hamburgers?" She said, "You're not supposed to bring other food to a restaurant." ... I couldn't even eat the french fries at that point because they were using animal fat to cook the french fries. So I could only eat french fries at Hardees. I remember thinking, "What am I gonna eat?" I didn't eat anything.
Dad: Is that the time you started eating cheeseburgers without the burgers?
Tara: I did!!
Diana: That was Tara. Tara ate cheeseburgers without the burger. ... I didn't eat any cheeseburgers without the burger. I didn't think of that.

My Favorite Things About Being a Vegetarian
by Tara Pozo

Eat Food
Grow Food
Emily (a friend)
Anna Ruth (a friend)
Roasted Peanuts
I Do Not Like Meat
Anna (a friend)