It wasn’t a blind ignorant sort of respect given to anyone older, richer or more powerful, but the real thing. I was taught that everyone deserves respect, including me. It may sound a little old fashioned today but why is that the case?
I was also taught to think for myself, to question and reason. I may have come to some conclusions that were different from my parent’s beliefs, but I wasn’t chastised for that. Certainly there were debates and discussions that didn’t all end with everyone agreeing, but at no point in my childhood did it occur to me that I may be lesser than another because I thought differently on a subject than they did.
Let me explain what I mean by example. I became vegetarian in 1979, I was eight years old and we lived in the middle of
Vegetarianism for me was a necessity; I felt so ill eating meat that I just couldn’t do it any more. I don’t know whether my physical reaction was physiological or psychological but at a certain point, that didn’t matter. I was just not eating animals anymore because that made me feel better. Full stop.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised my parents attitude toward their children was quite different from a lot of the people I grew up with. I had an inkling when a child I played with wasn’t allowed in my house anymore because we ate pasta and that was foreign. Then when I was a teenager I got into a fight with someone who told me her mother said my parents must be hippies because I was allowed wear purple eyeliner with blue mascara.
Looking back, my vegetarianism has to have been awkward for my parents. There were four other mouths to feed and it was the seventies, but they didn’t try to stop me. Nor did they mock me, apart from the odd “carrots have feelings too” jibe, but if I had a euro for every time that has been said to me, I would have cleared the mortgage long ago. Basically, they respected me and let me get on with something that has proved very important in my life.
Now when I say it has proved very important to me, it’s not the actual fact of being vegetarian, but what it represents. I’ve been bombarded most of my life with comments about how it’s not the norm, it’s odd, awkward and it sets me apart in a bad way. Or worse, it’s a fad, it’s intolerable, it’s stupid, it’s not taking our place on the food chain seriously. Sad to think there are people out there with nothing better to do than get really annoyed with me about a choice I made over 30 years ago that has absolutely nothing to do with them.
But that’s the point – it’s my choice and mine alone. Right now my kids are vegetarian because I want them to be and my husband respects that and I am downright queasy at the thought of body parts in the fridge.
However, when they are older, if they choose to eat animals, I will respect their wishes. Ok, I know I’ll cringe like crazy, but they own their bodies and have to make their own choices and I have no right to influence them unfairly.
I want to pass on the value of respect to my children because I truly believe lack of respect is one of the worst things happening in our society today. Everyone deserves it, no matter what colour, creed, sexual orientation, age, height, and weight, whatever.
Being vegetarian doesn’t define me; it’s just one aspect of me. Just like being female, being 39, being white, being a mother, being Irish, being a writer, being so many things that all work together to make me who I am.
I’m not a religious person, but I am spiritual and I believe nature does not make mistakes. Instead it creates an enormous range of life that we should all have respect for. It’s a basic right of everything and everyone on this planet. One we should all stand up for.
On the bright side, when the whole mad cow disease thing started, I was so smug, until I found out you could get it from milk. Oh well.
Vive La Difference!