Friday, September 30, 2011

I Don't Get It

Human beings are truly a strange species with many seemingly contradictory behaviors.

One of the first things parents do after the birth of a child is buy him/her a stuffed animal. Teddy bears probably predominate but farm animals (soft fluffy piglets, calves with embroidered smiles, and adorable yellow ducklings) are destined to become part of the toy menagerie.

Early reading material includes The Three Little Pigs, The Golden Egg Book, Chicken Little, and The Little Red Hen. After that, we move on to classics like Charlotte's Web and Babe.

All the time we are doing this, we are encouraging our children to dine on something we refer to as meat.

My daughter nailed this dichotomy at an early age (five or six, I can't remember). Shrewdly eyeing the Sunday pork roast, she demanded to know "What animal is this?" "Who killed it?" and finally, "How many pork chops would Wilbur be if you cut him up?" Shortly after, she announced that she was a vegetarian and remained one until her late twenties.

I am reviewing all this because one of the family ducks somehow acquired a broken wing and, after a serious discussion among the adults, was summarily slaughtered and prepared for consumption. This delighted my son-in-law who perhaps was not brought up  on stories of talking farm animals. My oldest grandson, whose emotions take a back seat to logic and scientific curiosity, was also fine with this. My middle grandson was distraught, however, and believes that eating one's former pet is an act of sacrilege.

My youngest grandson (age six) has the same sensibilities as his mother. As of this writing, his strategy re the transformation from barnyard pal to tasty entree is simply not to talk about it. He is upset, though, and may even be on the path to vegetarianism. Last night he wanted to know what animal provided the meat he was eating.

In theory, I have no problem with people raising animals for food. After all, that is how nature is set up to operate. You are either prey, predator, or savanger unless you decline to participate and opt to become Vegan. I do have a problem with the way most domesticated farm animals are raised -- jammed into cages, pumped with hormones, etc. I am a hypocrite, though, and continue to let myself be fooled into thinking that packaged meats are somehow unrelated to tortured animals.

What intrigues me most, though, is why we present our children with toy ducks and stories of talking animals. Perhaps it is a tendency that harks back to hunter-gatherer days when an animal was hunted and eaten yet simultaneously revered and ceremonially thanked for providing sustenance.

We are a long way gone from that time. I mean, can you imagine saying a prayer of thanks for each genetically modified chicken before you slit its throat, or for each steer in a long line of steers before you conk it on the heard?

Are "civilized" human beings programmed to use their children as foils against cognitive dissonance?

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