I’ve been reconsidering what to tell the kids when it comes to eating meat, dairy and eggs. So far the subject has not really come up as our three girls are only 5, 3 and 2 weeks so haven’t really noticed that mum and dad avoid animal products. But they are beginning to ask questions – not just about what we eat but about food in general.
Up until now I have always been very quick to say that Ed and I certainly don’t impose our beliefs on our children and they can eat whatever they want. So if we’re out and they choose the chicken sandwich then we buy it. At school we haven’t put them down as vegetarian as we wanted them to have the choice each day as to what they eat. I didn’t want to be seen as a pushy mother imposing her ‘extreme views’ on her poor kids… but recently this has started to sit uncomfortably with me.
For example, last week we were walking down the Northcote Road past an Argentinian Steakhouse. There was a giant cardboard cow outside promoting some offer or other and Arcadia (5 yr old) asked me why there was a cow outside the restaurant. So I explained to her that it’s a steak house and steak comes from cows. She asked me whether the cows were dead or alive and she asked me who killed the cows. I explained that the cows were bred for their meat and killed at a slaughterhouse when they were big enough to eat and then the meat is bought to the restaurant where it is cooked and eaten by the customers. She looked absolutely horrified. And I didn’t say it with any tone in my voice whatsoever – I just explained the process to her. She asked me why someone would want to kill a cow? I said because they taste nice and people like eating meat. Still she looked horrified. I don’t want to eat cows mummy she said. Ok well you don’t have to eat cows if you don’t want to.
Then we were watching Finding Nemo last night and again Arcadia asked me why people take fish out of the sea. I explained to her that when people eat fish, they have been taken out of the sea or out of a fish farm where they have been bred specifically for people to eat. Again horrified.
Our children have zero desire to eat these animals and are horrified when they discover what they have been eating… until we brainwash them into thinking it’s ok!
You get the picture. The problem is that by the time children start to ask questions they have already started to learn that it is ok to eat animals. because everyone at school is doing it, on tv, all around them etc. So what sits uncomfortably with me is that already she is looking at me as if to say ‘well why have you been letting me eat fish and sausages and chicken?’. ‘You know that I wouldn’t want to had you explained to me what they are’. Because kids haven’t yet learned from other people the crazy illogical idea that it is ok to eat pigs and cows and sheep and lambs and chickens and pigs and other poultry but that it’s not ok to eat horses and dogs and cats etc. They are equally horrified at the idea of eating any of them. Until we teach them that it’s ok in some cases.
So surely as a parent, my job is to equip her with the information that she needs in order to make an informed decision and then it is up to her what she does with it and I must respect her decision whatever it is.
But when do I start this? With my oldest clearly 5 was too late as she is already really confused as to why I haven’t explained this to her before. So do I start explaining to Indigo what different meats are before she’s started asking me prescient questions? So when we’re ordering lunch and she says she’d like a beefburger I should say are you sure you want to order that honey? You know that a beefburger is made from the meat of a dead cow… I immediately feel like a psycho pushy parent. But why? All I’m doing is explaining to her what she’s about to eat. I’m only giving her fact.
Children are appalled at needless slaughter… until we deceive them by telling them it’s ok, they’re meant to be eaten, we need to eat them for protein – complete rubbish!
I’m always amused at how people bang on about how appalling it is that children these days have no idea that milk comes from cows and sausages come from pigs. When it’s absolutely no wonder! I’m amazed when kids (that haven’t grown up on a farm) have the slightest clue where their food comes from because most adults are in total denial of it. Every length is gone to to deceive and mislead us – through advertising campaigns and marketing ploys. Words such as free range, organic, grass fed etc allow us to believe these cattle are living lovely lives before being humanely slaughtered…
The truth is a little different… We might all know that beef is from a cow – but most of us don’t know the reality of the miserably short life that cow has endured. Most beef calves are taken from their mothers immediately after birth, castrated and dehorned with no anaesthetic, transported to ‘fattening sheds’ where they are fed on high-protein cereal feeds (largely made up of soya which is responsible for most deforestation of the rainforests and a huge environmental concern – also cattle belch and fart out between 100 and 200 litres of methane a day, a gas which is 24 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is the largest contributor to climate change – bigger than the entire transportation sector combined!!!), and then taken for slaughter between 10 and 12 months of age. Pitifully young when you think that they would live happily for 25 odd years if left to live out their natural life in peace. At the slaughterhouse, the cattle are stunned (often ineffectively) using a captive bolt pistol before being shackled by the leg, strung up and having their throat slit.
In the UK, dairy cows are most commonly kept in pastures during the summer months and indoors in the winter. However, the practice of keeping the cows indoors all year round is becoming more popular; this is known as zero-grazing. Cows naturally produce milk after giving birth; for their children, not for human consumption. However, dairy cows are subjected to the same amount of cruelty as in any other intensive farming system so as to constantly supply humans with milk. Maximum production is paramount to the farmers and therefore, the cows produce between 20 and 50 litres of milk each day; around ten times the amount her calf would suckle. 10 TIMES! I am breastfeeding at the moment and the thought of being rigged up to a machine and have 10 times as much milk leached out of me is unimaginable.
To take full advantage of the excess milk which cows produce immediately after giving birth, the calves are usually taken from their mothers within the first two days of birth, causing suffering, anxiety and depression for both mother and child, as the maternal bond a cow has with her calf is very strong. Under natural circumstances, the calf would suckle for anywhere between six months and a year. Like humans, cows produce milk for the benefit of their children and therefore only lactate for around ten to thirteen months after they have given birth. The cows are therefore re-impregnated approximately 60 days after giving birth to continue the cycle of milk production. In addition, the cows continue to be milked whilst pregnant; a process which causes them extreme discomfort. Once the dairy cows are so worn out that they have produced all the milk they can, they are sent to slaughter, usually at around four or five years of age; the average natural lifespan for a cow could be as long as 25 years. Their meat often ends up in low-grade burgers or pet foods.
Some of the infants that are taken from the dairy cows are, like their mothers, destined to become milking machines for human consumption and profit. However, approximately half of the calves are male. Some of them are killed as infants for cheap meat; however, as the offspring of dairy cows are not purposefully bred for meat, they are rarely suitable for beef production. Prior to the BSE outbreak, a large number of these calves were transported to continental Europe for used in the veal industry.
Anyhow – enough – I’m getting waylaid. My point is that a lot of this was news to me and I was bought up on a smallholding in a farming community and thought I was one of the ‘educated ones’ when it came to animal agriculture.
So my new plan is to try and educate the kids in as transparent and honest a way as possible, without trying to persuade them in any way of what choices they should make. It’s kind of hilarious that I feel like a pushy mother for considering telling my children the truth about this. It just goes to show that the truth is pretty horrifying and it’s that I’m nervous of. I don’t want my children to feel the same confusion and anger and sadness that I do that people continue to eat animals when there is absolutely no need for it, no excuse for it. It is an indefensible, totally unethical and cruel practice which has no place in our society any longer.
I’m sad that they are going to see what lengths people will go to, what lies people will tell themselves, in order to not have to take a stance and go against the grain and do the right thing. It isn’t easy and it does make you question people’s morality but it is also an extremely valuable lesson. You cannot assume that just because ‘everyone else is doing it’ it’s ok. You must learn to question things, carry out your own research, draw your own conclusions and continue to evolve and grow as your own person.