During our Sunday roast dinner recently my 5-year-old daughter suddenly piped up with ‘mummy why can’t you eat chicken?’ This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked so I answered with my usual ‘it’s not that I can’t eat it, I just don’t want to.’ She paused for a minute before asking ‘why?’ And I came back with ‘I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to eat meat.’ That is where the conversation usually ends but this time I got ‘Why?’ Ah. Wasn’t expecting the second why, so that threw me a bit.
How truthful should I be? Should I say ‘I just don’t’ which doesn’t tell anyone anything or go for the full explanation ‘because I feel eating animals is wrong and I believe that a lot of the times the conditions they are kept in are cruel and unnecessary and it’s been so long now I don’t know if I could bring myself to eat it.’ No, not when she is five. But what do you say? Fortunately for me dessert arrived at that point and once she spotted custard all talk of chicken was forgotten. But it did make me think – how soon should children know exactly where their food – and especially meat – comes from.
Now I have always been honest with my children. They know that meat comes from animals and that there are other foods I don’t eat because they aren’t vegetarian – some sweets and desserts which have gelatine in for example – but I’m not sure how much of that concept they actually understand. We have all seen the surveys which say children don’t know where their food comes from or that most primary school children wouldn’t recognise a leek and think bacon comes from sheep and I don’t want that to be the case with mine. But at the same time I don’t want to traumatise my daughter by explaining how animals are killed for her to eat them. Am I being too soft? I honestly don’t know.
But last time we had a meal and the question arose I was ready for it. ‘Mummy, why can’t you have gravy?’ ‘Because there is meat in the gravy and I don’t eat meat’ ‘And you don’t eat chicken because it is meat?’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘So, chicken comes from chicken?’ Yes. ‘And bacon and sausages come from pigs?’ Yes! Clearly my little girl understands without the need for detailed explanations. Long pause. ‘But how do the pigs make the sausages?’ Oh.