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Nurturing Compassion through Introducing Vegetarianism to Children at a Tender Age

"Eating meat is not good for our health! If we ate the mother chicken, the chicks will have no mother and they will be very scared!" On this day, two children who have been vegetarians since birth courageously stood on the stage to advocate vegetarianism and appeal to all to love all living beings.

At the "Zero • Market", Tzu Chi volunteers promote vegetarianism and animal welfare to the public. Apart from a sharing session by vegetarian children, the organiser has also arranged for a demo cooking class to share tasty and easy-to-prepare plant-based recipes that even little children can make with little effort.   

"Eating meat is not good for our health! If we ate the mother chicken, the chicks will have no mother and they will be very scared!" said reserved and shy Soh En Yi, who was accompanied by her grandmother Soh Siew Kheng as she stood on the centre stage of the Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Center (“HYC”) to appeal to the public to show love to animals by adopting a vegetarian diet.

At 10 am on June 18, 2022, the "Zero • Market" at HYC started on time with two vegetarian children who have been vegetarian since birth, Soh En Yi and Callan Sim, speaking to the crowd to promote and talk about vegetarianism.

After a lot of hard work, colourful, delicious and nutritionally balanced burritos are completed one by one by little children.

Would you eat your pet?

Callan Sim has been a vegetarian since he was a foetus. When his father, Sim Cher Chian, shared how the whole family embarked on the journey of vegetarianism together, Callan snuggled up beside his father and listened to him attentively. Sim Cher Chian said with a smile, "Our family's journey towards vegetarianism started with two dogs!"

It turned out that Sim Cher Chian and his wife had the idea of opening a pet store because of his two pet dogs at home, which inspired their love for animals. To Sim Cher Chian and his wife, every little pet that comes to the pet store is precious. They put in a lot of effort to care for the animals and find them good owners.

One day, Sim Cher Chian stumbled across a video showing a group of cattle that were about to be sent to the slaughterhouse being rushed into a truck. The cattle could clearly sense something was not right, however, they were forced to walk slowly into the truck with tears in their eyes.

The expression of the cattle in the video made Sim Cher Chian feel shaken and sad. He then reflected and asked himself why do people treat different animals differently?

He asked, "How are cows and pigs different from the dogs and cats in our family? Why don't we eat dogs and cats, but beef and pork?"

When Sim Cher Chian shares how his whole family embarked on the journey of vegetarianism together, Callen Sim and his brother snuggle up beside their father and listen attentively.

"Life is equal!" After some discussions between Sim Cher Chian and his wife, the couple decided to become vegetarians so as to cherish every living being and become animals’ true friends. Naturally, their two children also became vegetarian babies and continued to adopt a vegetarian diet after birth.

Sim Cher Chian said that he was initially worried about whether a plant-based diet would affect the nutritional intake and development of the baby. After doing some research, they found that as long as they eat a balanced diet, the baby will be equally healthy.

"A small bowl of soy milk contains the same amount of protein as a piece of meat. If we eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet, we can also be healthy,” Sim Cher Chian shared.

Besides promoting vegetarianism and animal welfare, a demo cooking class was also arranged to teach simple plant-based dishes to the audience. The vegetarian dishes were delicious, flavorful and easy to prepare that even little children can make with little effort. Young vegetarians Callen Sim and his brother as well as Soh En Yi and her sister transformed into little chefs with their aprons and headscarves on.

Callan Sim is eight years old this year and has never eaten any meat. He has the same physique as a child of the same age and is energetic and healthy. Callan said that he likes animals very much and hence he is reluctant to hurt them. He also said, "Because animals are like us, they can also feel fear."

Having nurtured compassion at such a young age, Callan would promote the benefits of vegetarianism to his friends with the hope that more people will become vegetarians and love mother earth together.

Putting on an apron and a headscarf, Callan Sim (right) is seen concentrating on putting the vegetarian chicken nuggets, carrot sticks and other ingredients onto the crust, just like a full-fledged chef.

Nurturing vegetarian children in a kind environment

Soh En Yi has the affinity to become a vegetarian due to her father, Soh Jung Hong. Soh Jung Hong, who owns a food company, travelled to Taiwan for a three-day Tzu Chi retreat with a group of businessmen in March 2016.

During the retreat, Soh Jung Hong learned that many people vowed to become vegetarians and that gave him great joy. He said, "Adopting a vegetarian diet is an environmentally friendly choice. It protects living beings and is also good for health."

After returning from the retreat, he initially wanted to try going meatless for a month or two. Little did he expect a meat lover like him would continue as a vegetarian for six years until now.

At that time, his wife was pregnant with her first child. When the child was born, Soh Jung Hong decided to become a vegetarian for the child, hoping to cultivate compassion and teach his child how to respect and love all living beings from an early age. Grandmother Soh Siew Kheng said, "Even the second and the third child are also vegetarians. The three children are very well-behaved and are willing to follow their parents' arrangements to go meatless since birth."

Accompanied by her grandmother Soh Siew Kheng (first from the right) and her younger sister, Soh En Yi (second from the right) bravely stands on the stage to promote vegetarianism.

Soh Siew Kheng said, "For foods with unknown ingredients, the children would ask me if they could eat them.”

Although Soh Siew Kheng is delighted with her family's efforts to become vegetarians, she sometimes asks herself, "Will the children be able to persevere?”

She was worried that her granddaughters' will to go meatless would be influenced by society in the future. Therefore, other than cooking delicious vegetarian meals for them, she also frequently shares the benefits of vegetarianism with the children so as to instill the mindset of caring for the living and sowing seeds of kindness in them.  

Six-year-old Soh En Yi has become more and more sensible as she grows older. Not only is she a vegetarian, but she also shares with her grandparents and schoolmates her thoughts and the benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet.

There are also sign language performances to promote vegetarianism, hoping that more people will turn vegetarian to protect the living by abstaining from killing.  

Children's minds are as pure as the bright moon. The seeds of beauty and kindness have sprouted in their minds. Not only are they becoming more determined in going meatless, but they have also moved and motivated people around them to join the ranks of vegetarianism.

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