Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Vegetarian No More?

Dear Delilah,

You have always had very sensitive skin. Practically since the day you were born, we've worked to try to figure out the cause for the angry red flare ups that appear on your delicate little body. Our doctor is confident that it's something you'll outgrow. When you were a baby, I tried eliminating various foods from my diet, in case my breast milk was the culprit. We use only the gentlest and most natural products to clean and moisturize you. We use gentle laundry detergent. We don't over-bathe you. Still, your angry red skin persists, becoming much worse in the harsh Wisconsin winters.

Our chiropractor recently suggested fish oil to help with your skin issues. I bristled, reminding her that you and I are vegetarian. I mentioned our liberal consumption of ground flax seed, hinting that there should be Omega-3s a-plenty coursing through you. She went on to explain that there are two kinds of Omega-3s, and that flax seed is missing one of them, and blah, blah, something, something...I wasn't really listening. I was nodding politely, but I resolved that no, fish oil was not an option.

Then, some combination of factors came together to cause the worst chapping and chafing you've ever experienced. I suspect that drooling from teething, a sudden change to bitterly cold and dry weather, and an inability to blow your runny nose when you were sick recently are the primary culprits. One day last week, your face looked like this:

Then it got worse. Nothing we tried topically seemed to make any difference; you were still waking up with cracked and sometimes even bleeding skin on your beautiful face. I couldn't take it anymore. I needed to do something more. I found myself in the natural foods section at the grocery store, staring at the various options. I tossed a bottle of Spectrum Cod Liver Oil into the cart. The bottle boasted sustainable fishing practices. I tried not to think too much about it.

We got home from the store and put all of the groceries away. I set the oil on the counter where it taunted me while I fixed lunch. Veggie burritos. I fought back tears. We ate lunch. I washed your face and hands. I looked at the bottle on the counter, picking it up and turning it over in my hands a few times. I reluctantly opened it and sniffed at it. Hmmm....doesn't smell fishy. I measured out half a teaspoon and drew it up into a medicine syringe. I set it down on the counter, fighting back tears once again. I picked you up and hugged you. I explained that I was going to give you some oil made from fish, and that I hoped it would make your skin feel better. You were oblivious; no clue what the fuss was all about. I offered you the dropper full of oil and you took it easily. I stopped trying to fight back the tears and let them flow.

My vegetarian since conception baby was no more.

It was a moment of very mixed emotions. I was hopeful that this would be the answer, that it would help your skin to heal. I was also sad. Very, very sad. I always held the ideal that you would be old enough to understand what it means to consume animals before making that choice for yourself. I felt as though I had taken that away from you. As though I had failed.

Right now, there are probably some people reading this and thinking "What's the big deal? It's just fish oil! It's not like she ate veal!" There are probably others shaking their heads and thinking "She should have done more research. There are other options that wouldn't have compromised her values." To the latter, I would say that I'm just a parent with a baby in pain who is doing the best I can, and I'd ask them to be gentle with me. To the former I would say that compromising my values and ideals has always been hard for me, and that vegetarianism is extremely important to me. It's not a path that I take lightly or chose on a whim. It is deeply rooted in my values of compassion toward all living things, ecological responsibility, and conservation.

In the end, I am finding peace with my decision. I'm hopeful that this will be a temporary remedy, and that more research on my part will reveal accessible vegetarian options for both kinds of Omega-3s. It sounds like mircoalgae may be one such option. In the mean time, there was noticeable improvement in your skin within 24 hours. There's always a chance that's a coincidence, but it helped to settle my conscious. As you grow and learn, you will ultimately decide for yourself whether or not to maintain a vegetarian diet.

If you do choose it, I hope that you'll forgive me for this tiny foray into the non-vegetarian. In the land where most people think vegetarians eat chicken, and where waiters at local restaurants tell me with a straight face that "Yes mam, we do have vegetarian options. All of our fish selections are vegetarian!" I doubt that anyone will bat an eye if you choose to call yourself a life-long vegetarian, fish oil and all.



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  1. I call myself a life-long vegetarian, even though on three (!!!) occasions I've eaten meat.

    When I was five, I was at a friend's birthday party. I had no idea the red circles on the pizza would make me sick. Which they did.

    When I was in fourth grade summer camp, my "friends" decided it would be funny to "see what happened" if they snuck ground turkey into my soup. I got sick. And very, very, very upset.

    When I was 18, all my meat-eater friends kept telling me that Morningstar Farms chik'n nuggets tasted just like the real thing, and so I- out of pure curiosity- took a bite from a chicken nugget.

    ...additionally, there are a few exceptions that I keep. I will, when given the opportunity, roast non-vega marshmallows over an open fire. It's just plain better. I will eat Starburst candies, even though they have gelatin. And I occasionally eat Baskin Robbins rocky road ice cream, again, with non-veg marshmallows.

    And despite those forays, I think that I do not lie when I call myself a life long vegetarian.

  2. I'm a long time vegetarian (and mama of a veggie baby) and I've been struggling with Omega 3. With my ADD and other brain problems... frankly I NEED it. I know that the body doesn't absorb things from plants in the same way as from animals - things like Omega 3 and DHA. I've been figuring out what to do, and frankly I'm probably going to take the Omega 3 when I can afford the pills.

    Personally, I think back in the day, humans were mostly vegetarian, with ocassional fish. Certain markers on our body, such as the left over webbing between our fingers, suggest to some that we were coastal primates, and a diet of fish was probably inherent.. and as humans moved inland, it got changed to bigger, other animals, which is why those animals bring so many ill health effects. I never ate fish even as an omnivore (way back when) and I have huge issues with eating seafood from an environmentalist perspective as well... but, if my body really, actually and truly needs something (and not just some idiot doctor saying it needs red meat like so many of my once-veggie friends have experienced), and it's something like this.. well, i have to put my brain health first. I don't want dementia when I'm 40. I don't want a brain not worth it's weight. And I know you don't want your baby to be in pain. Sometimes, if we do our research, then we recognize when there are issues more important than our morals. They are rare, but the situations do exist.


  3. You are not alone. I struggled with the very same issues. Starting with my oldest we supplemented with fish oil and now she eats fish. My youngest is the same way, he's even eaten a few pieces of grass-fed, organic meat.(gasp!) I never thought this would happen, it's been a learning experiences for all of us. I'm still the strict vegetarian trying to do what's best for my family. I still say my kids are vegetarians mostly because I don't want others feeding my kids chemical filled, feed lot meat. Shhh! It's my secret. ;-) Parenting is such a learning experience, isn't it!?!

  4. Be gentle with yourself. I think your decision to take care of your daughter is entirely consistent with a vegetarian ethic -- to do no needless harm. We all use animal products in our day-to-day lives, and yet some of us continue to self-identify as vegan or vegetarian. That's ok. Life isn't about perfection. What's important, in my view, is to try to cause as little harm to others (including animals) while taking care of ourselves and those in our care.

    I think it speaks volumes about your character that you both agonized over this decision and that you were willing to share your struggle and your decision with your readers.

    I don't purport to know what's best for your daughter, but I recently discovered an omega-3/ DHA supplement that is neither flax nor fish, and it may be of interest to you: Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA Purity. It is derived from algae.

  5. This made me all choked up. I recently had to break down and give my little lady eggs. They are our own chickens, but still this was an extremely hard decision for me. One that noone I knew could understand or show compassion for. This is a beautiful letter, just beautiful. Keep up the good work, mama! You are so strong!


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