The Cycle of Food Creation
“Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.”
–Erik H. Erickson
When my daughter was 4, we attended a wedding party with a full pig roast. At one point, I watched her walk up to the grill from afar. My initial thought was, “stay away, it’s hot!” but this was quickly eclipsed by the horrific realization that at her height, she was coming face to face with the slowly cooking piggy. She stood there and stared at it for a few moments, and then moved away. “Geez,” I thought, “Can’t wait ‘til she questions me about that!”
But before I had the chance to perform the speech I started crafting in my head, we sat down at the table, and the first words out of that little girl’s mouth were, “I want to eat the pig.”
My husband Shaun, who is my daughter’s step-father, is a vegetable farmer. “Know where your food comes from” could easily be a family motto, and we’ve involved my daughter in gardening and food talk for a few years now. So my initial reaction when Shaun suggested we all go to a chicken processing class was fully supportive. My daughter, now 7, showed the same curiosity she had with the pig, and even asked us to find a video of a chicken running around with its head cut off (they’re on YouTube if you’re interested).
Unfortunately, when I brought it up to my dad and he voiced some concerns, my daughter picked up on his tenuous reaction and decided she didn’t want to go.
Was bringing my 7-year old to a chicken slaughter demonstration going too far? After hearing my dad’s arguments I wasn’t exactly sure. Was I possibly subjecting her to something traumatic?
But Shaun remained true to the ideal, insisting that this was a family activity that we would do together, and she would be fine. So this past Saturday, we joined a group of about 20 other people to learn how chickens make it from field to plate. And my daughter was the only attendee under 10…make that 20 years of age.
If you are picturing a scene of blood and guts, your imagination serves you correctly. I’m not going to try to paint it as something other than what it is. The demonstration showed us how to stun the bird with a special gun, put it upside down in a kill cone, slit its neck, dip it in boiling water, defeather it, and eviscerate it. Shaun was an active participant, and I decided to be a witness with my daughter, in case she wanted to step away for any part of it.
Despite my father’s fears, and my subsequent hesitance, my daughter sat through the whole thing with rapt attention. She saw how these chickens had lived on a small farm in NJ—with open space and caring farmers—and would now have a mindful and considerate death that isn’t extended to chickens in larger operations. My daughter had the opportunity, as did the other participants, to hold the bird and thank it for what we would get in exchange for its life.
For kids that grow up on farms, this is nothing to scoff at—the cycle of food creation doesn’t start in plastic packages or grocery stands. Food comes in the skin it was born in, and if you want to eat it, you need to face the act of killing first. But for the past two generations—my own and my father’s—this first hand connection to meat processing is an unseen experience, that we now imagine to be much worse than it actually is.
Now a couple days have passed, and we’ve stewed and eaten the chicken, and no nightmares have ensued, and I’m left with continuing thoughts:
Could it be that rather than traumatizing children by teaching them this, we traumatize ourselves by not facing it? Are we trying to deny responsibility for the death of our food by never showing up to witness how it happens? And rather than bringing on the fear of death, can experiences such as this teach compassion, awareness, and respect for life?
What are your thoughts on the cycle of food creation and how something is always sacrificed to sustain life?
Photo Credit: Craig McCord
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