A recent video of a Brazilian toddler learning the truth about where his meat comes from went viral. He didn’t understand why anyone would kill animals and eat them.
Afterwards, many “should we really be eating meat?” essays, blog posts, and articles followed.
I understand. The truth is that much of the meat we consume in this country has come from animals raised in filthy and frightening conditions, animals who are killed and slaughtered in equally horrible places that have little respect for their life or death. In many ways, vegetarianism and veganism are “kinder” diets.
But I’d like to give another perspective. Not one that claims everyone should eat meat or that argues that we should be able to kill animals because, after all, they’re just animals. No, I love vegetarians and if my husband didn’t love meat so much, I might just become one.
This perspective is simply the lessons a child can learn growing up on a small farm.
Because of our deeply held moral, ethical and spiritual beliefs about the care we should show all of God’s creatures, my husband raises grass-fed cows for meat and we buy pork and chicken from small local farms that care similarly for their animals.
Matthew has taken to bringing one of our children along with him when he buys a new cow or takes them to be butchered.
Sounds a little gruesome, doesn’t it?
Well, it is.
On his most recent trip to the small slaughterhouse (where incidentally, the cows are killed quickly…as I said, it’s gruesome), Matthew brought our two-year old son to drop off the cattle. Before they left, we watched as my husband loaded them into old blue trailer, knowing this was their last day.
Then he took our son in the truck and they were off.
When they returned, Farmer recounted our son’s reaction to leaving the cows behind.
“Where are the cows, Daddy?” “They’re gone sweetie. They’re not coming back.”
Like the Brazilian toddler, our tenderhearted son was close to tears at this answer. Although he isn’t able to articulate or understand exactly what was happening to those cows, he sensed, like most children, that something sad and significant was happening.
This story could add further fuel to the spark ignited by the toddler viral video.
But we see it differently. We don’t include our children in these experiences lightly. Instead, we believe these are teaching moments for our kids. Not only are they utterly aware of where their food comes from but they are also coming to an understanding about the fragility of life and the sadness of death.
In our Western culture, we tend to ignore or sanitize death until it comes sweeping upon us, leaving us unable to cope with the pain and loss. We outsource the care of our departed loved ones to other people (who we tend to call morbid or sick for their willingness to take on our unpleasant tasks). In our modernity, we have left behind perhaps healthier ways of dealing with death: preparation of the body, wakes, wailing, funeral parties that last for days giving time to grieve and let go.
So it’s no surprise that if we don’t know how to cope with the death of our loved ones, we run from the death of animals, particularly the ones we are eating.
Matthew and I try not to shy away from teaching our children this reality. It may be gruesome, but death has a sting no matter how you approach it.
My husband is sad when he takes the cows to be butchered. He has raised them and cared for them and I would be worried about him if this didn’t leave a mark on his heart when he takes them away. When a whole flock of our baby chicks were killed in one night by a raccoon, I was so devastated that I actually asked for prayers from my church. It was heartbreaking.
We praise and thank God for the animals we eat. We care for them as best we can, give them a good life and find a respectful way for them to die.
I have tremendous respect for those (some of them dear friends) who have given up meat for moral or health reasons. Clearly, our meat consumption in this country isn’t sustainable for our health, the health of others, and the environment.
Perhaps when God’s kingdom comes, the healing of our broken relationship to creation and each other will mean that we will once again commune with animals rather than eat them. But for now, we believe our children are learning significant lessons from life on a farm with animals: lessons about thankfulness, disappointment, death, praise, sadness, the necessity of toil, our lack of control, and profound joy. And we are learning those lessons right along with them.
Christiana is the manager of this collaborative blog. She has postgrad degrees in theology and creative writing from St Andrews University in Scotland. She lives with her family in intentional Christian community in rural Illinois. While her husband farm manages, she writes, sings, gardens, cares for their two kiddos, cooks, preserves food and attempts to homemake. She also blogs atthebeautyofthishour.wordpress.com.