The May/June issue of Horn Book has a refreshing, thought-provoking, and long-overdue article by Jennifer Armstrong called Reading Animals.
My older daughter, at the age of about 7, became a vegetarian after seeing the movie Babe. Her dad and I had eaten almost no red meat since our college years, but we still ate fish and fowl, and we didn't restrict our daughters' diets when they were away from home - both daughters enjoyed bacon, hot dogs, and other meaty foods.
But Babe was the turning point for Viv. She loved the animals in that movie - in fact, she has always loved ALL animals - and decided that it was therefore wrong to eat them. If it was wrong to kill and eat a cat, wasn't it just as wrong to kill and eat a pig? Pigs are at least as intelligent as cats, and twice as cute.
Viv made the connection early on between adoring animals and not eating them. Her young animal-loving cousin made the same connection recently as well, and has become a partial vegetarian. It's not surprising to me in the least.
What is surprising is how that so many Thanksgiving picture books are about saving the life of the turkey - and yet it's a sure thing that most of the authors who write them, the librarians and parents who read them aloud, and the kids who enjoy them happily devour a turkey every Thanksgiving. And any children's book featuring a cute pig is just tragic when you consider that pigs are raised purely to be some human's food and for no other reason. At least you could argue that Minerva Louise is happily laying eggs for us to eat or that the cows of Click Clack Moo are producing milk.
Here is what Armstrong says:
There’s more than a bit of hypocrisy involved in urging children to empathize with pandas and polar bears and bunnies and ducks in books and at a distance and then feeding them hamburgers and sliced deli meats. The United States kills approximately ten billion land animals every year for human consumption, which works out to over one million animals per hour. No number of books about runaway bunnies, or ducklings negotiating Boston traffic, or terrific and radiant pigs can compensate for that scale of violence, in my opinion. How does a child’s developing moral/ethical self resolve the jarring disconnect between the animal books she is given to read in the library and the animal meat she is given for lunch in the cafeteria? What is she to make of the trusted adult who holds in one hand a living baby chick to caress with tender care and a chicken nugget in the other hand to eat with special sauce?"Disconnect" is right! Now, most folks eat meat and that is absolutely their choice. But tell kids where meat comes from and don't sugarcoat it, and then let kids decide if they want to eat meat or not. Most will decide, as most adults do, that they want to eat meat regardless of how horrific the meat industry is. But some will follow their hearts and consciences, and that is something to be encouraged.