The truth about meat

Seth Schoen asks why some children are totally horrified to realise that meat comes from animals, and others aren’t and links to a story of a toddler who learns that she eats living things when she chooses a live fish to killed and cooked.

The idea of this being a revelation to people is a puzzle to me: it’s rather like death. Just as I have no memories of a big revelation to me that humans get older and older and eventually die, I don’t recall the meat revelation. I don’t remember not knowing that chicken was dead chicken, that beef was dead cow and so on. It’s worth noting here that I don’t actually fall into the crazy damn city slickers, only see their milk in cartons and their meat on plastic trays, probably think it grows that way! category. Does such a thing really exist? Anyway, I grew up with the animal trade in the house. My father has been a stock agent (an agent who buys and sells livestock for farmers) my whole life and for several years now he’s raising steers as beef cattle. (Something I didn’t know though: beef cattle are killed quite young.)

I do remember that I’m eating an animal! was a common major plot point in children’s books I used to read, but always because it turned out that the meal on the table was not just any old chicken, but specifically the child protagonist’s pet chicken, or similar. Admittedly in The Robber Bride this does lead one child to become a vegetarian (although she turns out to have a rather unusual take on killing animals, namely that some people are the strong killing types and she just isn’t) but The Robber Bride is an adult book. When this is a plot point in children’s books — older ones where people were more likely to actually have a farm animal that the children thought of as a pet — the children almost always refuse the meal but don’t consider becoming vegetarian. (The horror of the children was so universal and generally well rendered that I suspect that most of the authors were drawing on an actual childhood experience of being told they were eating a pet halfway through a meal. After several episodes in different books it got annoying: why were adults so consistently cruel?) These days in Australia one doesn’t usually get as close as eating one’s own animals; the closest I’ve come is the occasional gifts of a butchered carcass my father has been given (professionally butchered, not home butchered).