Vegetarian in an Orphanage

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1992:

Few American-born people have
been vegetarians longer than Marion
Friedman, of Philadelphia. Now 68,
Friedman quit eating meat in 1935, at age
11, as a resident of the Northeastern
Hebrew Orphans Home––”An Orthodox
home,” she points out. “I lived there from
age four to age 18, when I graduated from
high school. I never knew my father, as
my parents divorced when I was an infant,
and I never was in touch with him. My
mother (suffragist and labor activist Reba
Gomporov) put me in the home only
because she was unable to care for me in
the difficult Depression times, but she saw
me every Sunday.”

Even before entering the orphan-
age, Friedman had an impulse to refuse
meat. At age three, she remembers, “The
nursery school served us oatmeal, and I
refused to eat it, saying there was a ‘turkey’
in the cereal––the shape of the oatmeal in
the milk––and I was not going to eat that
poor turkey. Remembering that incident
helps me to respect the conversations and
opinions of very young children to this
Her mentor in the orphanage was
“a night nurse, Anna Kazatchina, who was
Russian-born and was working her way
through college, attending Temple
University as a psychology major. She
lived in the orphanage herself, as did most
of the employees. On her time off, she
used to make me salads in her room, and
take me for walks. One time we passed a
chicken store, where live chickens were on
display in the window. She then talked to
me about the cruelties of killing animals.”
According to a Jewish Times article
published November 29, 1935, older chil-
dren at the home had “much to say about the
food,” and were “permitted to select their
menus.” Friedman took advantage of the
opportunity to avoid meat.
“I do not recall getting any opposi-
tion or difficulties from the supervisors or
other employees,” she says. “This might be
because they were too busy, with 90 chil-
dren to care for, to even notice that I had
stopped eating flesh foods. They served our
dinners with the food already on the plates,
so when I had two or three vegetables, and
the meat, I would trade my meat portion
with another child, who would give me the
vegetables he or she didn’t want to eat. At
that time, I was not yet squeamish, as I am
now––I won’t touch anything on a plate if
meat has been on it.”
Friedman first encountered stress
over her vegetarianism after she married, at
age 27. Her future husband didn’t tell his
family she was a vegetarian before taking her
to meet them. At dinner, Friedman kept sur-
reptitiously feeding the meat portions her
future mother-in-law gave her to the family
cat. “He was a very well-fed cat that night,”
she laughs. Her late husband never did give
up meat when eating outside their home,
though he didn’t ask her to cook meat for him
when he realized how much it repulsed her.
“He loved our cats,” Friedman
explains, “but like many people, did not
connect the idea of animals he ate with ani-
mals he loved as home companions.”
Her experience with her husband
and inlaws cause her to believe that becom-
ing a vegetarian was actually easier for her,
in an institutional setting, than it would have
been with any conventional family.
Friedman credits orphanages in
general as being underrated. Introduced in
the early 19th century to harbor children who
formerly wound up on the street, orphanages
thrived for approximately 100 years, but
were phased out several generations ago. As
Friedman explains, “They have been
replaced by an increased number of foster
homes and group home situations. It was
thought, by professional child experts, that
this type of living arrangement would give a
child a more normal home environment.”
But despite the Dickensian image of orphan-
ages, Friedman suspects foster and group
homes aren’t really progress.
“Since I knew no other life as a
child, living in the orphanage was not only
normal for me,” she declares, “but I was
also provided a steady, positive life in the
company of other children of all ages and
both sexes. In contrast, even in the best of
foster care, many dependent children are
shifted from one home to another, and never
have any one place where they can feel they
Friedman never had children of her
own, but for many years was part of
Philadelphia’s Little Sisters program, work-
ing with children. For the past 25 years, she
has worked as a secretary at the University of
Pennsylvania, and has been a prolific writer
of letters on behalf of children and animals as
Her feelings about animals, chil-
dren, and her own self-identity crystalized
around 20 years ago, when after her moth-
er’s death she “accidentally came across a
newspaper clipping which revealed to me
that my father had been killed in a hunting
accident. This struck me like lightning,”
she explains, “since neither biological nor
environmental factors will explain the
peculiar coincidence that I have always
been strongly against hunting.”
The accident, if it was an acci-
dent, happened when Friedman was seven.
Her father was killed by his second wife’s
brother. Her father was Jewish. His new
relatives were not, and disapproved of
him. “My aunt, now 92, suspects it was
not an accident,” Friedman says, then
muses, “I wonder how many hunting acci-
dents are really murder?”
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