While kids may not read Confucius or Kant, according to a study of child vegetarians, they are still quite capable of making ethical decisions. According to Paul L. Harris, a professor at the Graduate School of Education, children from meat-eating homes who choose to go vegetarian do so on moral grounds.
Harris explained that participants, who ranged from 6 to 12 years old, cited concerns related to animal welfare as reasons for their vegetarianism, and that TV shows and movies such as “Finding Nemo” didn’t really influence their decisions.
“My impression was that, for whatever reason, they were less likely to compartmentalize their knowledge and feelings about animals and animal well-being and suffering from what you could put on their plate,” Harris said.
Margaret E. Crane ’14, who has been a vegetarian since the age of 7 and is a member of Vegitas, Harvard College’s vegetarian society, echoes the sentiment of the study’s participants.
“I didn’t think it was right to eat animals for my own enjoyment,” she said. “When I eat a hamburger, I think of a cow. Most people think of it as meat.”
What most surprised Harris was that although the children he studied were basing their decisions on the rights of animals, they were not judgmental of other meat-eaters.
“I expected these children to be more evangelical or zealous in their attitudes,” he said.
Of course, there are exceptions to these tendencies.
Mary C. Davies ’13, another Vegitas member who has been a vegetarian since she was 3 or 4, said that she first stopped eating meat simply because she didn’t like the taste or texture of it.
“It really was just a habit,” she said. “When I got older I started thinking more critically about it.”