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My son, the carnivore with a conscience

A cow stands with others in DeWitt, Neb.,

A cow stands with others in DeWitt, Neb., Wednesday, April 25, 2012. The beef industry responded swiftly after the first new case of mad cow disease was found in the U.S. since 2006. With billions of dollars at risk, the USDA and other government officials quickly explained that consumers were never at risk because none of the animal's meat was bound for the food supply. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) Credit: AP / Nati Harnik

My son, Harrison, made the mistake the other day of taking a pamphlet titled “25 Reasons to Try Vegetarian” from a young man on a Manhattan street corner. Then he made a worse mistake reading the nonprofit Mercy for Animals literature. I say worse because he loves — I mean, loved meat.

It was a momentary decision. By the afternoon, he was biting into a hamburger at the Whitney Museum of American Art restaurant. But I could see that a sparkle had left the unabashed 9-year-old carnivore’s eye — and he had left half the big, overpriced, juicy beef patty on his plate.

The topic of giving up of meat has been ongoing at our household since I went to a Morrissey concert in early January. What did it was the “Meat Is Murder” portion of the show, where the singer-songwriter showed black-and-white footage of animals being mistreated in the most cruel and unusual ways, all of it bathed in red light across a big screen on stage. I had walked past the animal-rights propaganda table at the show, the way I have always avoided such things, because the idea of eating meat has troubled me for as long as I can remember.

Harrison asked many questions that afternoon and into the evening until his thoughts seemed to jell. He said he enjoys eating meat too much to give it up, but a few conditions would have to be put in place.

He said he wants the meat he eats from now on to be “good,” by which he means that the animals are slaughtered humanely, not forced to take antibiotics and hormones, and can roam cage-free. He also said he wants no more fast food meat, like his favorite chicken nuggets.

I give him a lot of credit for working through his choice. My bouts of being a vegetarian over the years, including this latest one, were really only about being grossed out by eating meat, not about how animals are treated.

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