One of the more amusing aspects of raising kids on the
farm is the age-old question (mostly from “city people”): “How can your kids raise these animals as pets and then eat them?” A reasonable question,
certainly, and one I did have to ponder for myself a number of years ago, when the children were first coming along. The simplest answer is that the
kids do not regard all the animals on the farm as pets. We have 2 dogs, a number of cats, and a peacock as pets. Yes, the kids do own some of the animals as
4H projects, but even these they regard as “livestock,” not “pets.”
Livestock are not pets. Many people, myself included, remember watching “Charlotte’s Web” as a child, how sad they felt when there seemed no hope for Wilbur, and how relieved we all were when he was saved with his trust fund set-up. Few recall early on in the film, when Fern’s parents declared that it was time for Wilbur to move outside because he was trashing the house. Young animals raised in the house often develop more aggressive personalities along with expectations, and more than not become unmanageable when older (and much bigger and smellier). They also may not learn to compete with the herd for their food ration, and therefore remain dependant upon the handler to feed them.
The question has been asked of me how anybody in the family can eat animals after raising them from babies? Again, cows, pigs and chickens do not behave like dogs and cats. Often, by the time the animal has reached its time of butcher, it has broken through fences, rummaged through the garden or greenhouse, chewed up tools and clothing, possibly even eaten my favorite flowers. It can sometimes be challenging to tolerate the animal until its date of departure. Not in every case, but often enough to keep the situation in perspective.
The children do help with the chores as well. A stall that yesterday held a large pooping animal and today is now empty means chores will be done all the sooner.
When it all comes down to it, probably the most compelling reason why the children are at peace with raising their own food is the very obvious difference in the taste and physical effect of the meats. Long ago, the children noticed the superior quality of our products like bacon, ham and sausage. They have felt, also, the very different feeling in their stomachs after a meal at a restaurant. There are a number of items they will not even consider eating unless it is comes from our farm. Even with food from other farms, they report a difference in the taste and quality from ours.
This, I believe, is because we do respect and appreciate our animals. The children have learned to strike a balance with how they relate to the animals in the barn. The animals are all given names, all spoken to and even played with, but always with the understanding that this animal is going for food. But this interaction while with us is what gives the animal the positive energy that we are hoping to get back from the food we eat. The saying, “You are what you eat,” is true in so many ways. In my opinion, the delight we take in savoring the steak is the ultimate respect for the animal.
The enthusiasm that we as the adults feel toward our food is very contagious to the children. After all, the reason I came to the farm was to raise the best and freshest ingredients to cook with. The fabulous meals, and the obvious pride and delight I take in preparing them, all lead to understanding for the children as to what we are doing and why, with very tangible results they can see and taste time and again.
Others may find it unusual, but to our kids, it seems perfectly natural to ask at the dinner table, “Who is this?”