Monday, April 23, 2012

Wild Kingdom

Rhiannon was playing with her toy animals the other day.  She has quite the assortment of barnyard animals, reptiles and dinosaurs.

Usually her little animals are buddies, sharing in adventures that traverse the mountains (living room couch), hiding in the labyrinth of caves (underneath the kitchen table) or swimming in the ocean (bathtub).  But lately there's been quite a few altercations between the animals.  Namely between the dinosaurs and the horses.  As in the horse will be laying prostrate and the dinosaur will be hovering above it.  Then the dinosaur bends down to the horse and Rhiannon makes munching noises.

Munch, munch, munch.....burp!  Excuse me!
Ok, so I'm guilty of letting her watch a few too many Planet Discovery, Wild America and Blue Planet DVD's.  But maybe it's time to put Sponge Bob in the player for a while?

So now I've been thinking about the meat-eating thing and how I'm going to approach the whole life-death-eating cycle here on the farm.  Rhiannon loves chicken.  And Rhiannon loves chickens.  She knows the word chicken can mean either her feathery friends outside or the delicious meal on the supper plate.  But when will she realize that they are one in the same?  And when will she realize that the animal had to die to fill her tummy?  
And when that realization is finally made, will she shun that food?

Then there's the whole can o' worms regarding the meaning of "death".  She's seen a dead rooster and knows that it no longer moves or clucks, but just sits there (with it's head missing).  She even said the word "dead" when she saw another deceased animal shortly afterwards.  

I know that most "civilized" parent's don't have this discussion with their children.  They are so conditioned to seeing their dinner come from a drive-through window or the ingredients neatly laid out on a styrofoam tray and wrapped in plastic that the idea that their supper once lived and breathed never occurred to them. Exactly when does an inner-city or urban child find out that the burger in their HappyMeal was once a cow?  Acutally, I don't even remember at what age I realized meat meant the death of an animal.  Did I figure it out on my own?  Was I taught it in grade school?  Did my parents tell me?  Or since I was suburban-raised, did I even care about the fate of a chicken, cow or pig?

I'm not going to hide from Rhiannon where our meals come from; I want my daughter to truly appreciate her food.  But I'm not sure when, or how, I'm going to teach her about those not-so-nice facts of life and death.  Do we make her watch when we're butchering an animal?  Technically I think she was at the last chicken processing, but was more interested in the jug of bubbles a friend brought her.  Is she too young to see these things?  Or if we keep involving her by letting her hang around will she just figure "Oh, that's just how it's done" and be over it?  Or will she scream and cry the next time Mommy makes chicken and dumplings and become a vegetarian?  Ah, the challenges of parenthood!

Maybe I could get David
Attenborough to come here and do a voice-over during our next chicken butchering session.


  1. Ah, you now have your own omnivore's dilemma. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

  2. There's a sticky wicket. My EX-BIL thought it was his place to share the cow/hamburger connection with one of my sons (4 years old!)-did not discuss it with me first. Said son wouldn't eat a hamburger for a good year after that. Can't say I was sad to see that BIL go! I'm sure you will handle it just right!

  3. OMG! Are you telling me that all that chicken I eat at your house comes from those cute little fluffy birds running around your property?!?! Oh the horror.....!

    Ok, actually I'm being both sarcastic AND a bit serious. As we all know, I'm not as educated, etc. on the process of where our "real" food comes from. As a kid, I always thought it came from pre-wrapped packages from Jewel or Aldi's.

    I, like you, don't even remember how we found out as kids. But I do remember seeing a cows tongue wrapped at the butchers counter. Oh and lets not forget that one time at that unusual "market" in Addison where I could have SWORN it was a pet store!!! I mean, they had cute little turtles and squids and octopus for god sakes!!! You didn't prepare me and tell me that those were for people to PICK OUT TO EAT!!!!!!!

    I just hope my little niece can handle it better than her Auntie!!!

    Good Luck with that :-)

  4. Gosh you bring up a good point, I don't even remember learning that stuff but I must have, since I didn't move to "the farm" until I was 7 or so. I do remember however casually hearing about the "good for nothings" that would go into the freezer soon LOL... what sticks out most to me is hearing over and over about how fortunate we were to have so and so in the freezer (insert carcass here LOL) so I always knew my family gave respect to those animals we raised and always seemed to be out of the house with my mom somewhere when the said animal went off to be butchered. I guess just start slow, casually say things and see if she asks questions? I was also in 4-H so that helped a lot!

  5. Don't you sometimes long for the "old days" when it was just a fact of life and people didn't even consider how to tell the children that we eat the chickens that we raise...
    I know you will do a good job for your child! :)

  6. she probably wont have any hoots at all as long as you dont freak out. i know several families who let their very young kids watch - and help with butchering. they all think its interesting. my fav story was when one of the boys was looking at a pen full of lambs and announced they look "deeee-licioius."

    you'll do the right thing

  7. Kids are smarter than we give them credit. She will understand and appreciate her food all the more.

  8. We explained the process to our boys at a young age. Seeing natural death, and dog victim deaths on the homestead seems to have made the butchering process easier on them. When they wanted to help, everything was explained as it happened. We allow them to chose if they want to help or watch or not.

    Sometimes it can be a bit difficult on them, especially when they have grown fond of the animal. Even though they have known from the animals birth that it was food, it is difficult sometimes even on us adults, to go through the process.

    As another commenter said, as long as you are calm, she should be as well. If she gets upset, don't fret over it. Calm her and explain food to her again. Good luck.

  9. Before we moved to the farm, we had the girls watch as we butchered deer. I never really had to have a talk with them. It is something they've grown up with. We do take our hogs in to be butchered, but they like bacon too much to care about them, I think :)

  10. Our approach to home butchering is the 'we talk about it all the time' approach. When we get chickens we make sure it is known to our children that they are disgusted for eating...semi-annual butchering of said chickens or pigs is a given and expected. She is young enough that it will just be part of life for her and you don't need to have 'the talk' with her. It's natural, normal and beneficial to butcher your own animals and by not making it a big deal you will teach her that :)