Just before Christmas, I took my kids to see a production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack, our hero, took delight in telling the audience about some meatballs he had recently enjoyed. In the very next scene he had to take his beloved cow Daisy to market – he was distraught at the thought of her becoming someone’s lunch.
I’ll wager that the majority of the audience didn’t see the discrepancy here – they did not notice the mixed messages being sent to their children and if they did, I’m sure the thought was swiftly dismissed.
Just how often do we lie to our children when it comes to animals and how we treat them?
After all, children are natural animal lovers. My two have always been fascinated by dogs they see in the street and have loved to watch the ducks swimming in our local pond.
And society reinforces this in so many ways. Talking animals are prevalent in kids’ TV shows and books. My kids’ favourite is Peppa Pig, which features a lovable pig and her animal friends.
Look at Disney. Our heroes are often animals and so many Disney films could be seen as having an underlying animal rights message. Who could condone hunting after the tragic demise of Bambi’s mum? Never was there a more effective anti fur message than the evil Cruella De Vil who tries in vain to steal the fur from those gorgeous little Dalmatians.
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In our own lives we continue to teach our children that it’s wrong to hurt animals. We stop them from throwing stones into the pond in case they hurt the ducks. We tell them to be very gentle when patting the dog. We tell them not to pull the cat’s tail.
Children understand this message – it makes sense to them. We tell them that we don’t like it if someone hits us because it hurts, so too the dog doesn’t like being hit because it hurts.
Yet, come dinner time, this message falls apart. Children sit and watch Peppa Pig while munching on a ham sandwich. Apparently the pain felt by the pig killed to make that ham doesn’t count. It’s okay to eat meatballs as long as they’re not made from minced up Daisy. We use words like ‘ham’ and ‘beef’ instead of ‘pig’ and ‘cow ‘to distance ourselves and our children from the reality of what’s on our plate.
When children are old enough to actually make the connection that the animals they see in the field are the animals that end up in the dinner, the lies continue – probably because we know that the little ones will be none too impressed with the knowledge of what they’re actually eating. ‘We need to eat meat to be healthy’, ‘You need to drink milk to make your bones grow strong’, ‘It’s okay to kill the cow because she’s had a nice life and it doesn’t hurt’.
The inconsistency is glaringly obvious.
One of the aspects of vegan parenting I’m most grateful for is the ability to completely avoid educating my children with mixed messages.
We don’t hurt animals. That’s it; there’s no get out clause, there’s no ‘but’. It’s simple, it’s consistent and it’s so easy for children to understand.
Is it time to stop the lies?