Childhood habits are very difficult to break, maybe even impossible, but what if you understood that you’ve been taught a falsehood?
My boyfriend’s seven-year-old brother told him the other day that the only bad thing about Minecraft, his favourite computer game, is that ‘you have to kill the animals to eat them’.
Children have a natural love for animals; it’s why you take them to farms and zoos and buy them pets. You encourage a connection between your child and other living creatures, a connection that is seen as healthy and beneficial to them. If they appreciate and care for living things, they’ll grow into a well-rounded human being, you hope.
Why, then, after all this, do we teach our children that animals also exist to be slaughtered and eaten? Of course, it’s not as simple as sitting them down and telling them straight. As these videos illustrate, many young children haven’t yet acquired the skill of dissociation that adults have; they understand that animals must die in order to become food, and this is a discomforting thought. An innocent mind is presented with the facts, and comes to a rational conclusion — that killing is bad. What’s incredible, and sad, is that by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have managed to bury our innate compassion away and instead accept, usually without thinking twice, that animals must die so that we can eat them.
For the most part, we have all been conditioned into believing that slaughtering and eating animals is a necessary part of life. In the beginning, a young child in a high-chair will be unaware that the food they’ve been served for dinner comes from the same animals they’ve seen in picture books and at farms. After this, they’ll be told that their food is called not ‘cow’ or ‘pig’, but ‘beef’ and ‘pork’. The (somewhat sugar-coated) truth is then revealed once meat-eating is deeply ingrained into everyday life — pets exist to be cuddled, and farm animals exist to be eaten. It’s troubling to think that while children are encouraged to appreciate the beauty of nature through animals, they are also taught that some lives mean less than others — a value judgement that in any other context we would avoid teaching our children. Who really wants their kid to grow up thinking that some lives are precious while others merely serve a purpose to them?
I’m not saying that people who eat and feed their children meat are baddies who love to slaughter animals; like everyone else, they have grown up believing that some animals simply must be slaughtered, and this internalised belief is hard to detach from after years of living by it. The important thing, however, is that we break the cycle; we know that most farm animals endure horrific abuse and live in appalling conditions; we know that animal agriculture is destroying the planet, and — contrary to what we have been raised to believe justifies the slaughter of animals — eating meat isn’t good for you. It was only in July last year that I made the connection, and since then I haven’t been able to look at my dog without seeing a cow, or a pig, or a sheep (you know what I mean). With the amount of information and healthy alternatives now available to us, there’s never been a better time to make the change. Vegetarianism and veganism aren’t some newfangled fads; people have lived healthily on plant-based diets for centuries.
So, now that we can no longer tell our children, ‘you must eat it because it’s good for you’, or in all good conscience promise them that all farm animals die peacefully, doesn’t it make sense to cut dead animals out of our diets completely? I’m by no means an expert, but I’m pretty sure that children would be happier with and more excited by food that is not only good for them, but that also does not involve harming the animals they love so much.
By choosing not to serve animal products to our children, we are maintaining and strengthening the compassion they were born with, and guaranteeing that this empathy and respect for living things will continue throughout their lives — something that can only be a good thing.