A soya and steak saga: An ideological child may not make an ideal home, says Carolyn Roden

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MY 10-year-old daughter, Emma, recently announced that she was becoming a vegetarian. At first I was quite pleased, having vegetarian tendencies myself; but I had not realised the potential minefield both the supermarket and sweet shop were for a veggie child, let alone the warzone about to erupt at home.

First, her favourite peanut cookies have had to be ditched as they curiously contain cochineal - and cochineal, as all good vegetarians know, is made of the crushed bodies of certain Mexican insects. Its use in red Smarties is more obvious. Gelatine (made of boiled animal hide and bones) turns up in a surprising number of sweets and chocolate bars. Recently she won a six-pack of Wagon Wheels that she reluctantly gave up to her brother as they contain gelatine.

I was hoping she would continue to eat fish but her love of whales and dolphins soon scuppered that idea, so I have had to explore the recesses of our local health shop to find nutritious alternatives to meat. I now think nothing of adding seaweed to the vegetable risotto, to give her extra vitamins and minerals; while both tofu and Quorn seem very adaptable protein substitutes.

But the rest of the family have now become suspicious of anything I serve up, unless it is obviously a grilled chop or a roast joint. Risottos are sifted through with eagle eyes just in case I have sneaked in soya chunks, and last week's casserole made with heavily disguised Quorn was immediately spotted and rejected by my husband, who may have some New Man tendencies but not where food is concerned. He still insists that a 'proper' meal must have meat; 'I've always been a meat-eater and it's too late to change now.'

I used to be able to zip round Sainsbury's in 20 minutes, but these days it takes me twice as long, as I scan the ingredients list on every tin and packet. It is amazing how often animal fat is tucked away in biscuits and cakes; and to my horror a carton of tomato soup I bought Emma in a rush contained chicken stock, which her now-sensitive nose sniffed out before she actually ate it.

She no longer trusts me and carefully examines every item that enters the kitchen, accusing me of negligence both to herself and the animal kingdom, when any animal products surface. 'If you buy meat, it's the same as killing,' she says. On the other hand, my 14-year-old son has also become a Sherlock Holmes of the kitchen, scrutinising every box and packet for 'alien' substances. When he discovers a packet of miso or green lentils, I get a thorough grilling: what am I going to use them in and will he have to eat them? Once my kitchen was a place into which I could retreat for a quiet coffee - now it is a battleground.

It seems, however, that a growing number of young people in Britain (about 8 per cent) are turning to vegetarianism. These are mostly girls responding to the suffering of animals, particularly factory-farmed ones. My daughter's attitude seems typical. When asked why she does not want to eat meat any more, her response is: 'I don't want to eat something that was alive. I don't like animals being miserable and then being killed just for me to eat.'

Emma is quite uncompromising in her views and no one is immune from her hard-hitting criticisms. We were recently asked to her grandmother's for Sunday lunch but I doubt whether we will be asked again for some time. The first problem was that the roast potatoes had been cooked around the joint and Emma would not touch them; then she said the rest of the vegetables smelt meaty, so she sat morosely picking at a bread roll. When my husband began carving the joint, she looked straight at her grandmother and said, 'You know that thing was a live cow once don't you?' The silence was shortlived but poignant. We tried to laugh it off, but her comment had flattened the atmosphere.

However, her lectures on the evils of chicken rearing and their ugly deaths have not gone unheeded. I can see the paradox of taking her to watch the lambing at our local farm, so that one minute she might have a lamb on her lap and next find it dead on her plate. But her brother thinks it's funny to slip bacon-flavoured crisps into her lunchbox and there is nothing he enjoys more than eating a hunk of chicken as close to her face as possible. He does not take her views seriously at all.

I do not know when hostilities will cease in my house, but I hope it is before I cook the Christmas turkey.