The first time an urban Australian child sees animal flesh is usually as an object lying on a polystyrene tray covered by a layer of clear plastic wrap. Or peering through the butcher’s shop window, they might see meat surrounded by green plastic frills, reminiscent of gentle pastoral scenes and the idyllic life of grazing animals. Children all over the developed world have similar experiences and are told by their parents, ‘this one comes from cows and this one comes from sheep’, and meat, ‘tastes yummy’, and, ‘meat is good for you’. But how many of them are told the truth about what those animals had to endure before their flesh ended up on those trays? None, perhaps.
How many of us would take up an offer to see the inside workings of an abattoir? How many parents would take their children to see the whole process from the unloading of the animals off the trucks to the point where they are slaughtered? Not many, I would wager, which is understandable. I would not have done it with my kids either. Yet it is these same parents, many of whom couldn’t cross the threshold of an abattoir themselves, who happily feed meat to their children, content to perpetuate the fiction that it all appears on their plates by way of some benign and harmonious process in which nobody suffers. It is this myth, more than anything else, which explains why meat-eating remains as normalised within society as it is today. But we are now well into the 21st century and given the amount of information we have to refute such nonsense, isn’t it about time we stopped telling our children that everything is OK and started sharing the truth with them? They are going to find out soon enough anyway and many of them are going to look askance at their parents and wonder why they didn’t ever think it through.
Raising children provides parents with a wonderful opportunity to (among a lot of other things) demonstrate a humane attitude towards all sentient beings. Why make children unwittingly complicit in something as profoundly wrong as factory-farming and other forms of animal abuse when the alternatives are so freely available? Parents, who aim to normalise the healthiest diets and the most compassionate and environmentally responsible attitudes within their families, have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to act as generational circuit-breakers and pass on to their children, not the results of their own conditioning, but of their own reasoning.