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Can They Handle the Truth?

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.

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8 comments on “Can They Handle the Truth?

  1. diane
    August 29, 2012

    Oh, gosh, what a quandary! It must be so hard when you want to preserve your children’s innocence without giving them the completely wrong idea. I don’t have any answers, being neither veggie nor a parent, but I’d be interested to know how other people have handled it.

  2. Alex
    August 29, 2012

    How awkward. I’m very far from being a veggie, but as a parent of a toddler I can appreciate not wanting to sound brutal. That said, two of the longest standing veggies I know took up that stance as children (one has been vegetarian from the age of five, when he says he ‘simply stopped thinking of animals as food’; the other has been vegetarian from eight – at which age I remember her informing me, accurately, about animal rights and farming practices – and vegan since she was 18).

    If I had to guess, maybe the place to start is by turning the questions back on her briefly to see where her understanding lies? Perhaps “well, how do you think pigs turn into sausages?” so you can start with gently addressing that and working out what she’s ready to hear… Or maybe not. Gosh, I’m helpful. šŸ˜‰

    I’m really interested to hear where you go on this. In the next few years my daughter will probably begin to notice that her dad’s friends / family don’t eat certain things (they’re all stricter on the kosher front than he is) etc etc and I guess we’ll have to begin to address food / farming issues from a different perspective!

  3. Keris
    August 31, 2012

    This is a tricky one. You reminded me of the farming poster that the inlaws gave to Joe that had a picture of a pig next to some sausages, chicken next to eggs, etc. Joe thought it meant that pigs eat sausages, chickens eat eggs…

    I remember when I was a nanny, the daughter asking “Why is chicken called chicken?” and the mum said, “Because it looks like chicken.” I was really shocked. If they’re old enough to ask, they’re old enough to be told, right? But. I know you have the same problem as me with under- or over-explaining (or sometimes I seem to manage to do both at once). So how to tell them without upsetting them? I don’t know. Sorry.

    Oh, except maybe they won’t be upset? After we had a crispy duck, the boys asked about it being the same kind of duck as the ducks in the canal. I said yes, expecting them to be horrified, but they actually suggested helping ourselves to ducks *out of* the canal. Kids can be cruel, is what I’m saying. šŸ˜€

    • diane
      September 1, 2012

      Ha! Oh, poor ducks. I remember being horrified when I realised the thing my grandparents called “tongue” (and which I’d enjoyed in my sandwiches up until then) was actually… a tongue. I just thought it was another word that was pronounced the same. (Like tongs, I guess.)

  4. Veggyfan
    August 31, 2012

    Ooh comments! Lovely! I am going to be honest with them if they ask about things, they probably won’t be as traumatised as I think. Olivia did tell me she wanted to be a vegetarian until Ben pointed out she couldn’t eat bacon and that went right out of the window! I think I will wait until next time the question comes up and see what happens. Will keep you posted!

    • diane
      September 1, 2012

      Yes, do! I really enjoy your posts.

  5. Veggyfan
    September 1, 2012

    Oh thank you! I enjoy yours too! *sets up mutual appreciation society!*

    • diane
      September 1, 2012

      Hee šŸ™‚

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This entry was posted on August 29, 2012 by in Bea Delicious, Bea Family.
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