It’s interesting to be a meat-eater when your children begin to have questions about meat. Especially when in general you’re a pacifist type who tries to gently persuade flies to exit the door you’re holding open (all but wearing a jaunty bellhop cap) rather than swatting them, who will chase a spider or silverfish down with an index card to scoop up and gingerly deposit on a nice comfy looking blade of grass rather than getting a big fluffy ball of toilet paper to sort of anonymously swoop in with and squish with a little quiet gross crunch and then drop into the toilet.
So but then as you begin to think a little more about what you’re eating and to consider the animals themselves, not only for their own sakes but for the sake of your family’s very own health, and you look at pictures of cows being slaughtered with their baleful eyes cast skyward and bled and hung and butchered and cooked and yet you persist in eating meat, well, it makes for something of a conundrum.
One of the funniest hypocrisies I’ve seen parents commit is to spank or swat their children for hitting another person.
To be such a kind of wuss about hurting creatures who don’t have baleful eyes makes it seem all the more hypocritical to not only kill but to tear with your teeth and consume the very flesh of creatures who do have baleful eyes. It occurs to me that this is sort of like the conservative interpretation of the liberal worldview wherein (the interpretation seems to figure) you think it’s ok to murder innocent babies with rusty coat hangers but not ok to tenderly and with great concern for their comfort put hardened criminals to death. And when you look at either case in monochrome, I suppose the respective cases can be made. There’s nuance in both cases, of course.
The modern food industry makes it easy to distance yourself from the murder of meat because what we eat doesn’t in any way resemble the creatures it comes from. (Conservative right-to-life groups do the reverse by showcasing the gruesome physical realities of abortion in brochures, on posters, and I think even on vehicles.)
We have long shielded Lennie from unpleasant or over-complicated things, but I’ve recently tried to shelter her a little less, lest she grow up to be a complete Pollyanna. So I’m more open these days about the fact that the chicken substance we’re eating is an actual chicken that at some point said bock bock and scratched around in the dirt and maybe had what turned out not to be a legitimate concern about the sky falling. And she’s skeptical, saying things, even as I show her the naked pimply little broiler chicken I have seasoned and am about to put into a hot oven, like “we don’t eat a chicken, we eat chicken,” as if removal of so small a thing as the indefinite article somehow separates the food substance from the animal. If you let it remain an abstraction, maybe it’s not real!
Trying to figure out how to talk to your kids about what you’re eating really makes you think about what you’re eating. Trying to resolve the ethical conflict of not liking to kill things and yet being happy enough to kill not only sentient but in some cases beautiful, in some ways thoughtful, personality-endowed creatures, well, let’s just say it’s kind of an uncomfortable place to find yourself in. Trying to resolve this in an internally consistent way for yourself is hard enough, but trying to boil it down to the level of a 4-year-old is an even harder thing, and something I’ll have to continue to work at, both for Lennie’s sake and my own.
2 thoughts on “Yes, chicken is A chicken”
I don’t think you or your children should eat things that you know what they are. This goes both for preservatives and animals.
Killing has to occur to eat meat. I was raised vegetarian (with some fish) for 14 years and the smell of meat used to make my stomach turn. I quit that partially because I decided I have no compunction about killing animals. Life is precious, but it also temporal.
Not all life is of equal value, plants are alive as well. They may not walk around and look at us, so are fungi, bacteria, and virus (at least I count them.)
I think children can understand the distinction between killing for fun and killing for purpose. We should not destroy plants, minerals, our homes either without purpose, just as we should not destroy the life of a chicken without an intent to do something with it. I think that is basic lesson you have to teach.
When we change the world we destroy what is there. We should always think twice before we destroy, because it it is not coming back.
There is no reason for children to believe that they eat magical white chunks rather than an animal. Historically people had no problem distinguishing this, it is a modern problem with the alienation of production. Maybe you should take her fishing?
Fishing is easy and it is a clear example of taking the responsibility of killing your own food, and honestly fish don’t really stare you in the eye.
A word of advice: DON’T shelter your children from reality! The CAN handle it. They will take their cue from your reactions. Trust me on this one. My parents raised meat birds once or twice when I was a kids. They were city folks that got into the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s. They were so concerned about our feelings when it came to butchering that they luck us in the house while they did it themselves.
Fast forward a couple of decades and hubby and I decide to farm ourselves. It took a few years to get to where we are today but, honestly, that “sheltering” my parents did is still with me. I have a very hard time watching, let alone participating, in the actual killing process of the chickens. I can clean them but I had to think and read about it for years before doing it. It was not until this past spring, in fact, that I actually cleaned the chickens without a glove on! Once upon a time, I couldn’t even stand to touch raw meat!
Anyway, I was determined not to have my children bothered by this. Butchering your own food is a necessary part of life and I want my children to be able to do it and not be encumbered with my phony guilt about the whole thing. I have been successful. They understand that killing for killing’s sake is wasteful and unethical.
It is only in our modern, wealthy society with grocery stores galore that we are able to divorce ourselves from reality. Do you think hungry children in Africa or China have problems killing and eating chicken? No! And it may become an absolute necessity to be able to do these things here in the U.S. again one day.
As for bugs, you’re just being a wimp. Gardening will take care of that for you. When you see your first black widow creeping across your garden bed toward your daughter, you’d better squish it! Wait until the bean beetles or potato bugs start eating YOUR food. Do you have the same feeling about tape worms? Or will you provide your farm animals with some sort of wormer to kill the blood suckers before they kill your chickens.
Of note: animals are not people. And when folks took care of raising and butchering their own food, they didn’t waste a bit of what that animals provided. Everything was used, down to the last drop of blood. They were thankful for the food and the animal that provided it at the same time they were sorrowful about the act of butchering it.
Abortion is murder, btw. Look at your children and tell me it is not. There are problems with our criminal “justice” system and much injustice is done. This is where the “shadow of a doubt” question comes in. It is both lawful and moral to punish criminals. Unborn babies are not criminals. Read a bit about what a baby goes through during any abortion process (the “officially sanctioned” ones, not the coat hanger legends) at any stage and compare it to what an animal goes through during the butchering process, even in the worst of places. The latter is far more humane. I can say this as I have come from both the liberal and conservative view points in my life.