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.