Lately my daughter has been raising a lot of interesting questions about animal ethics. While stroking a faux-fur vest at the mall, she turned to me and said “Mommy, where it face?” I wasn’t sure how to answer that one. She also insists on calling the turkey in her Thanksgiving play-set (yes, those things exist) “turkey food.” She’s never eaten meat, and I’m not sure she understands the connection between the actual birds she regularly sees on farms and the decapitated, featherless figure in her play-set. Her questions raise for me a number of issues I’ve been wrestling with for years now. I remember watching the first season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and feeling so sad that a group of seven-year-olds didn’t recognize tomatoes and saw no connection between French fries (which they knew) and actual potatoes.

On the heels of the controversial (and not yet released) children’s book Maggie Goes on a Diet, it seems like we’re losing touch more and more with the actual point of eating. Consider how often foods are labeled “good” or “bad”—and how often the so-called bad ones are described with quasi-religious language (like sinful, tempting, and guilty pleasure). I agree that food ought to have a moral component, but in the way we assign that now, I think we’re missing the mark. It’s counter-cultural to think about items at the deli as animals; the meat is treated in ways that intentionally distance the food product from the animal itself—in the name of sanitation and convenience—but it also means consumers seldom have to think about actual living creatures. I’m not opposed to meat consumption on principle, but I think we are doing ourselves and our progeny a disservice to pretend meat wasn’t once an animal, and I find questions about industrial food more compelling than endless discussions about BMI. I also can’t help but feel that the issues, at root, are inextricably intertwined.

My family’s new obsession is fruit picking, and we are lucky to live in an area ripe with such opportunities. We spent Sunday morning picking raspberries off their bushes and apples off their trees, accompanied by a cool autumn breeze and a majestic view of the Catskill Mountains. I am determined to raise a child who knows and appreciates where food comes from, even if we don’t always have the time or chance to spend our weekends in the orchard. The final cost of the fruit is the same (or even less) than we pay at the store, but picking for ourselves reminds us of the labor and the creativity involved in the process. Our food, in all its bounty, originally comes from our Creator. Recognizing and honoring His hand in the process might just require thinking more about the farms and rethinking the factories. And I think that paradigm shift toward transparency and thankfulness could ultimately be as healthy for our bodies as for our spirits.


  1. Erin,

    I agree with your observation. This is the reason that I have a large garden. It helps me teach my children about work and where food comes from at the same time. Interestingly enough, the kids are more likely to eat their veggies after they find out that we grew them in the garden.

    I also hunt. The kids have seen me butcher a few different animals. The process is difficult and messy on larger game, far from the packaged version you find at the grocery stores. I think that if the average person had to clean and butcher their own meat, half the population would immediately become a vegetarian.

  2. A couple recent experiences have brought to mind the facelessness of certain animals in our society.

    The first was reading Adam Hines’ first volume of Duncan the Wonder Dog (free to read in its entirety on his website), a book that explores the concept of What if animals had the ability to communicate in our language. It’s a thought-provoking story that somewhat democratizes the breadth of species across the globe.

    The other was popular treatment of Michael Vick. Because Vick treated dogs abusively, there are numerous internet-based expressions hoping lifelong misery on him, that he would rot, caring little for his soul. This is an expression that implicates all of those who buy our pork at the supermarket (pork farming being both notoriously brutal and terribly bad for the environment), who by our purchases discreetly sign off on the abuse of far more animals than Vick will ever encounter.

    Food for thought—even if we’re not quite sure where it comes from.

  3. Seth,

    Michael Vick’s demonization is still mind-blowing to me on many levels, especially considering the many felonies that have been committed against persons by NFL players that got barely in reaction by comparison.

    I did not realize that pig farming was notoriously brutal, but I’m not really surprised. My experience with pigs, and most other things besides chickens, has been on a “small farm” basis. I am almost certain that the brutalization you speak of usually occurs on the larger, more commercial farms as opposed to the smaller ones. Unless, of course, people count the simple slaughter of animals for meat to be brutal. I mean, it is brutal, but probably not in the way that you meant.

    If you cannot tell, I’m pro-small farm. ;)

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