Tough Questions Kids Ask: Why Do We Eat Fish?

It came without warning. On Wednesday, I was driving my tiny Ford Ka, my two sons tucked in the back seat, me and my wife in the front, headed to see Lufthansa bring one of their huge Airbus A380 to visit the Helsinki Airport. We were talking about how big the plane was and how you could park 72 cars on each of its wings.

The discussion went somewhat like this:

Me: You know, Oiva? The plane we’re going to see is so big that you could park over 70 cars on each of the wings!

Three-year-old Son: Oh?

Wife: Are you sure it was on one wing?

Me: I don’t know, it could be in total too… Or both. Anyway, that’s a lot of cars!

Three-year-old Son: Dad, why do we eat fish even though it’s a living thing?

Me: …

I escaped the situation by promising to talk about the fish later, and although Oiva did ask the question once again after a while (“Dad, tell about the fish already”), he accepted my distraction and let me continue talking about the plane. We chatted about what would happen to all those cars at take-off and I was left wondering about the fish all by myself.

And I still don’t have an answer.

I told about the question at work and discussed it with some colleagues. I asked about it on Twitter. Despite all of that, the best justification still remains “because everyone is doing it.”

That is not quite the message I want to tell my children.

I wonder how long it will take before my three-year-old has turned me into a vegetarian.

Before I had children of my own, I used to laugh at shows like Kids Say the Darndest Thing where children share a bit of how they see the world. Now, I have the show running at home, twentyfour-seven, and I start to realize that it’s a lot more than entertainment. Raising children is not a one way street where you imprint your own thoughts and values into an empty mind of a child. That mind already has thoughts of his own and it communicates back, challenging everything you thought you knew about life — if you just listen.

It’s rewarding. It’s challenging. But most of all, it requires humility: Are we ready to let our world view be challenged by three-year-olds? And could we change our own habits as a result of their thinking?

I think we should.

And here is a good tofu recipe to start with.

14 thoughts on “Tough Questions Kids Ask: Why Do We Eat Fish?”

  1. Hey Jalaine – speak to Bill Gerlach (@bill_gerlach) – he and his family have been veg for a year now – he’ll have great tips for you and loves to talk on skype!

    Kids do come up with the greatest stuff. Actually Bill recently told me that out of the blue his kid said to him ‘God is the present moment.’ I think he was like 3 years old. Cool.

    1. Thanks for the introduction, Ali!

      I don’t quite get what the kid meant by saying “God is the present moment,” but I agree with your assessment. Kids do say amazing things — and then they move on to the next question.

      The other day, Oiva asked me: “Do we have a jesus?”

      1. Thanks for the “referral”, Ali.

        Jarkko — We have three kids (7, 5, 17 months) and a week doesn’t go by when one of them does/says something that just stops me in my tracks. Kids have this intuition — this innate wisdom — that somehow we lose as adults. The episode that Ali referenced was with our 7 year old boy. As we ate dinner, he announced out of nowhere: “God is the present moment.” Our family is more “spiritual” than “religious” and I take the time to expose the kids to as many faith traditions as I can. My son’s comment came across as having deep insight with mixing the Buddhist concept of mindfulness — embracing the present moment — and a greater divine nature.

        As far as why we eat fish — you’re right, it is because we are conditioned to do so. But there are alternatives! Our family has been full-time vegetarians for a year and you know what? It’s been easier than we originally though. In celebration of World Vegetarian Day and the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month, I wrote a post about the keys to being a vegetarian family:

        Keep encouraging your kids to challenge you with those deep questions! You may not have all the answers (I certainly don’t) but it’s fun to figure them out together. Be well!

        1. Thank you, Bill! I hope your post will get me and my family moving further to this direction :)

          And after your explanation, the “God is the present moment” comment makes much more sense. I definitely don’t have all the answers either, but it’s good to be challenged from time to time, so I’m looking forward to all the questions the kids will come up with.

  2. Children have such an un-biased, innocent view of the world and are able to see (often obvious) things that adults aren’t.

    I hope that you actually will consider the vegetarian thing because as vegetarians and children alike realize, meat was once a living, breathing, feeling thing. And as you said, “because everyone is doing it” isn’t a valid reason for cruelty.

    Plus, here are many other good reasons to drop the meat:

    I love that you’re willing to challenge your own thinking and (hopefully!) make changes based on the perspective of a 3 year old.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Angie!

      I haven’t quite gotten to the implementation of the changes yet, although we are already reducing the amount of meat consumption in my family by having vegetarian food for about half of the week.

      To be honest, to me the “because everyone is doing it” is the reason that keeps me from jumping all the way. Stupid, but true… And definitely not what I want to teach my son. So, I’m working on it.

      Let’s see how things progress — and I’m sure they will, as Oiva grows and starts asking *even* harder versions of the question…

  3. We eat fish because it has been a tremendous source of protein and essential fats and oils for millions of years of evolution.

    That’s why ‘everyone else’ is doing it.

    The problem here is with how the animals are treated while they are alive, and how humanely they are killed, which is something that we rarely know when we buy meat at the supermarket.

    I think this is a much better reason for becoming vegetarian than just not eating things because they have once lived.

    I’m not religious, but I found this by searching ‘was Jesus vegetarian’ on Google:

    “Jesus was not a vegetarian. The Bible records Jesus eating fish (Luke 24:42-43) and lamb (Luke 22:8-15). Jesus miraculously fed the crowds fish and bread, a strange thing for Him to do if He was a vegetarian (Matthew 14:17-21). In a vision to the apostle Peter, Jesus declared all foods to be clean, including animals (Acts 10:10-15). After the flood in Noah’s time, God gave humanity permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:2-3). God has never rescinded this permission.”

    1. Good to hear a comment that finds support for the meat eating side as well.

      I thought about this answer on my way to work today, and found a lot of truth in it. There are health benefits from eating fish (as well as meat, I suppose) — but these days we already know very well how to replace them in a healthy diet. So, from a purely utilitarian point of view, we don’t have to eat fish or meat (anymore?).

      In nature, many animals eat each other, and it’s just natural. Most species don’t care about anyone who is not part of their. A lion’s world view is pretty black and white: either you are a lion or you are meat. However, as humans, we have brains capable of seeing the concept of neighbors in broader terms: we can see fish and animals as more than meat.

      I agree, how animals are treated while they are alive is the number one concern. But even that does seem like a terribly utilitarian view: “it’s OK to kill animals if we take good care of them before it” sounds a bit harsh to me…

      I don’t know, and like said, I still eat meat. Just going through my inner battles out loud :)

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