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The Omnivore Dad's Dilemma

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CORT RUDDY
Cort Ruddy
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The words I've dreaded since we started feeding these kids have just crossed my pre-teen daughter's lips.

"Dad, what would you think if I wanted to stop eating meat?"

"What!? Like a... like a vegetarian?"

"Yes. Exactly like that. "

Ay, caramba! Really? A vegetarian?

Now, I consider myself a reasonable man. I make certain food and I expect that food to be eaten ... Hmm. That sounded frighteningly like King Triton before he blew up the Prince Eric statue. Anyway.

I do consider myself a reasonable dad. And, don't get me wrong, I fully support the decisions by other people to become vegetarians. I'm not anti-vegite (not my term). I have lots of friends who are vegetarians... Boy, this doesn't sound good.

I swear. My two sisters, whom I adore, were each vegetarians for years. I have a sister-in-law now who's a vegetarian, I think. Maybe even two. I try not to pry about such matters. I really do support people who make that choice. Really.

It's just that I kind of like meat. Sure, I've struggled with the concept of killing animals a bit. I remember when I read The Jungle back in my freshman year of high school. I avoided hot dogs for at least a solid two weeks. But I just couldn't stay away. There's just too much about meat that's appealing.

Besides, we're also kind of "foodies" in our house. We try to make and eat lots of cool dishes. French peasant food, southern barbeque, authentic Mexican, half-ass Thai, you name it, we make it and eat it here. And almost all of it has meat at its core. We even add chicken to our meager attempts at Indian food. My wife often makes fun of me because when I shop for our meals I like to pretend I'm a Top Chef contestant and always start by picking "the proteins."

We not only eat meat proudly, but we're foodies in the shows we consume. I can survive months on a steady TV diet of Iron Chef and Anthony Bourdain. Pretty much all Tony does is travel the globe eating meat in tube form while he exalts the mere existence of pork fat. That's my favorite show.

And it's not just me; my kids all love watching cooking shows, too. My daughter, who now wants to be a vegetarian, used to consider Cat Cora her personal hero. And just a few weeks ago she suggested that she and I make the five mother sauces this summer. She's going to be bummed to learn animals must die for at least two of those sauces. Three, if you're a vegan and count eating eggs as animal death.

Simply put, eating meat, cooking meat and watching people cook meat are regular occurrences in our house.

But it's more than that. There's also a practical aspect. I do a lot of the cooking and food shopping in our house. Sure, it's easy to throw a veggie burger on the grill, or order the cheese pizza to appease the vegetarians among us. But, what about all those other meals? Am I supposed to make Tofurkey every meal? Or tofish? Or topork? Do we have to find meat alternatives for everything? How will I do that? And how much will that cost?

I certainly want to be a dad who supports his kids, who helps them become who they want to become. And I totally respect the thought and perspective and conscientiousness that goes into something like this. But my kid? Already? She's only freaking 11. My God. At this rate she'll be moving to a hippie commune and drinking only beet juice before she's old enough to drive. Sorry veggie friends. Just venting.

I imagine this is just the start of her spreading her wings and asserting who she is. All of this is happening just as I'm settling into my ways. Is this what I have to look forward to? Is this what all those older parents were referring to when they'd wink and smile and say, "It only gets better?"

This is a big test. Am I going to be a parent who stands in the way their kids' individualism, or am I going to help them grow?

Ugh. Why couldn't she just give up television? Or discover punk rock music? Or become a Mets fan?

As for my thoughts on the whole vegetarian thing, I have personally come to accept the fact that we humans are omnivores by nature. We have teeth designed for tearing flesh, and our bodies need protein. Sure, it's lonely atop the food chain. But that's where we find ourselves -- usually.

In my life, as I've thought more about the food we eat -- which I have done a lot -- I certainly believe we need to fully understand where our food comes from, to know how hamburgers are made, to know how cheese is cultured, to know what it takes to grow vegetables. I've helped promote policies that support local farmers and the whole "slow-food" movement. And I make decision based on sustainability, environmental impact and the humane treatment of livestock. There's virtue in that.

But damn it, if someone roasts a pig, I'm there with a fork in hand. (And maybe some Achiote paste, for good measure).

So, this eldest child of ours has left me with yet another dilemma. I want to support her, but I really don't want to start cooking two meal options every night. And, as much as she may be considering giving up meat, I am not.

So, what's a dad to do?

Help me, Bobby Flay. You're my only hope.