This story is from a parent who was decided to change their diet because of the actions of a young vegetarian. It shows that it is possible for kids to change grown-ups ... though we don't advise anyone to use Rebecca's tactics!

What's for Dinner?

(courtesy of the Greenscene section of The Vegetarian Spring 1996)

A short story by David Howarth

Chips without fish, Sunday dinner without roast beef?

No, it wasn't on, Was it? I must admit, I was a reluctant vegetarian. I had no argument with the moral issue, but thirty years as a carnivore is bound to have some conditioning effect. Even now, after fifteen years of not eating meat, my taste buds still react to the smell of frying bacon. Always one of my weaknesses. I have always been a staunch defender of animal rights. I played an active part in the Hunt Saboteurs Association in the 70's and 80's. I attended all the rallies and marches against seal culling and whaling. To give up eating meat, however, was taking things a bit too far. I mean, what could I eat instead? Chips without fish, Sunday dinner without roast beef? No, it just wasn't on. Was it?

Then my daughter took over.

At breakfast I would be standing at the cooker frying away, when a voice would shout from the top of the stairs.

'What's that disgusting smell? Dad, are you cooking flesh again?' Rebecca always was straight to the point.

At first I would ignore such remarks. After all, what does a 13 year old schoolgirl know? Not content with constantly heckling me when preparing food, Rebecca began to secretly make me vegetarian meals. My expected beef stew would turn into Protoveg chunks stew. My sausages would actually have flavour and no bits of gristle of course.

I knew she was doing it. She couldn't fool me. I began to realise that I was eating without a guilty conscience whenever I ate meat. Crafty bacon sandwiches when Rebecca was at school. Hiding fish fingers under mounds of chips. Daft, really. Eating out was easy but expensive. Things were getting difficult. Even my Dad converted! I was the odd one out in my own home!

The infamous Animals film really made me think. I swore on leaving the cinema that I would never eat meat again. The horrors of that film left a lasting impression on my mind. Right I thought on the way home. That's it, I'm a 'veggie'. I stuck it for a month. It wasn't too hard at home. After all, when no-one else in the house eats meat you're not open to temptation, are you? My downfall came when I went out with a group of friends from work. In the pub everyone ordered chicken and chips. Well, what could I do? I must say it didn't taste as good as I remembered. Still, that was it. I was back on the carnivorous track again. I even started to try and justify my weakness to Rebecca. You know the sort of thing. Man needs meat.

I suppose I have to thank Nelson for my eventual, and final, conversion. Nelson, I should explain, was my pet cockerel. So called because he only had one eye. He was about eight years old and full of character. He would wake us in the morning with his strident crow, often to the annoyance of the neighbours! He lived in the back garden with six hens. Strutting proudly around, he ruled the roost with a beak of iron.

One sad winters' night, Nelson was killed. A fox managed to scale the twelve foot fence that surrounded the garden. it was early evening and I hadn't shut the chickens up for the night. Nelson. the brave old bird, took on the fox. He was no match for the vulpine intruder.

I dashed outside on nearing the commotion but was too late. The fox made a hasty exit back the way he came. (I meant him no harm, chickens in the open are fair game). Sadly Nelson was dead, killed defending his harem. I picked up his battered body and cried. I was alone in the house that evening, fortunately. We all loved Nelson and I didn't want the others to see him like that.

I put the dead bird in a cardboard box and left it in the shed. I would give him a decent burial the following day. Next morning, I went into the shed to get Nelson. The box containing the body was nowhere to be found! I had told Rebecca and her Mum the unfortunate news. Neither of them could shed any light on the whereabouts of the box.

A couple of days later, on my return home from work, Rebecca announced that she had cooked a special meal for us all. 'One of her vegetarian delights, no doubt,' I thought. The table was laid, candles were lit and the wine was uncorked. I sat down and waited for the culinary delight. Thinking back, I seem to remember a lot of hushed titters coming from the kitchen at the two girls prepared the food. I was expecting my daughter's delightful Protoveg pie or something similar. Imagine my surprise when, although Rebecca and her Mum did indeed have Protoveg, my meal turned out to be roast chicken and all the trimmings Rebecca, looking very pleased with herself, sat down opposite me.

'Well, aren't you going to eat it then?' she asked.

I needed no second prompting and tucked in. Very good it was too.

Later, I sat with a cup of coffee in front of the TV. I wondered what had come over Rebecca. She must be trying to get round me, I thought. Probably wants me to buy her something. Just then Rebecca popped her head round the kitchen door, where she had been helping her Mum wash up. 'Was the chicken all right, Dad?' she asked.

'Very nice, thanks', I replied.

Rebecca, looking very smug, said 'Nelson wasn't too tough then?' I nearly dropped my coffee.

'You didn't?' I said, looking at her in disbelief.

'Well, why not?' said my devious daughter 'Nelson was no different from any other cockerel.'

With that she flounced off, leaving me in a state of severe shock. I never did eat meat after that. Even though later in the week, as I was putting out the rubbish, I spotted inside one of the plastic bags, a wrapper bearing the words: 'Sainsburys' Frozen Chicken'.