With Spring here, there seems to be an abundance of adorable baby animals around the farms which got me thinking….I know most people would much rather NOT know where their meat is coming from, it is so much easier to not have to think about the reality of what you are consuming. I myself had that moment of realization as a young child, about ten years old to be exact…in the fifth grade…in Mr. Shea’s class to be even more specific…..Funny, there are few childhood memories that I can recall with such vivid clarity. While I can’t tell you the exact date, I can tell you it was fall. I can still feel the crisp air on my face, smell the falling leaves mixed with smoke from the fires inside the buildings. Our class was on a field trip to a place that re-enacts the pioneer days and allows visitors to participate in lifestyles of the past. I was having a great time weaving, picking apples, learning to cook over a fire, etc. Then my teacher brought a handful of us over to watch a presentation by the farmer where he would be slaughtering and preparing the chicken. Seeing my horror at the idea, Mr. Shea (who was always joking at other’s expense) decided to force me to watch. I won’t describe the details that I remember through my tear filled eyes, but know that it left it’s mark, forever burned into my mind. The man demonstrating then had us line up to pluck a feather from the now dead bird. I wanted to run screaming, but Mr. Shea took my hand and held it on a feather until I complied with tears streaming down my cold cheeks.
When I got home that evening, my mother had prepared Cornish hens, with one sitting nicely on a plate just for me. I lost it – ran into my bedroom sobbing and visibly shaking from my experiences that day. While I know many of you will gasp that a teacher could do such a terrible thing and will likely accuse him of being abusive, I disagree. (admittedly, it has taken me a long time to reach this shift in perspective) This experience had a profound impact on shaping my food perceptions. If I had not experienced this, I would never have connected with my food in the same way. I would go so far as to say that he did me a huge favor, one that I wish every child experienced. It taught me to think about what I eat, connect it back to the system, and respect the system. I know that chicken gave his life to provide food for humans, I know because I watched it. The tragedy would be if those same humans wasted that food. Let me explain; a chicken has two breasts, two “tenders”, two legs, two thighs, and two wings, organs, and bones, right? How many chickens died to provide your family with the chicken tenders you made for dinner? What happened to the rest of it? Do you just assume that someone else bought it and is eating it for dinner? Have you thought about how irresponsible this assumption could be? Maybe you honestly have just never thought about it, after all meat just comes in a package with no indication of its connection to the food system. Those in the food industry do this intentionally, undoubtedly sales would decrease if people were reminded of those connections at the time of purchase.
There are a lot of studies that have been done on the effects of meat consumption on human health as well as the health of the environment. They all come to the same conclusions – less is best. I am not advocating that everyone needs to become vegetarian or vegan, but that we become more conscience of our food decisions all the way around. We consume far more meat than what is necessary and we need to come to an understanding as to the implications of this habit. As humans, we are the ones that are ultimately responsible for the sustained health of our planet and all its inhabitants, a burden that we all share equally and should not take lightly.
A few years ago I had the good fortune of meeting Kate Bogli, owner of Maple View Farm in Granby, CT. I love hearing her speak, she is an intelligent, articulate mother of 4 young boys. She pushes the community to invest in feeding their families a real, plant based diet with limited meat from quality sources….yet she operates a beef, pork, and poultry farm. Seems contradictory, right? The difference is that she respects the lives that she is committed to raising for consumption. If we continue to consume meat at our current rate, the need for factory feed lots will continue to rise rather than decrease. So go ahead, spend the extra money to support your local beef, pork, or poultry farmer, but balance your budget by consuming less of it. And while you are at the farm, go ahead and expose your children to the reality of their food – I know it is uncomfortable but it is an important step in our movement back to real food.