Lately my daughter has been raising a lot of interesting questions about animal ethics. While stroking a faux-fur vest at the mall, she turned to me and said “Mommy, where it face?” I wasn’t sure how to answer that one. She also insists on calling the turkey in her Thanksgiving play-set (yes, those things exist) “turkey food.” She’s never eaten meat, and I’m not sure she understands the connection between the actual birds she regularly sees on farms and the decapitated, featherless figure in her play-set. Her questions raise for me a number of issues I’ve been wrestling with for years now. I remember watching the first season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and feeling so sad that a group of seven-year-olds didn’t recognize tomatoes and saw no connection between French fries (which they knew) and actual potatoes.
On the heels of the controversial (and not yet released) children’s book Maggie Goes on a Diet, it seems like we’re losing touch more and more with the actual point of eating. Consider how often foods are labeled “good” or “bad”—and how often the so-called bad ones are described with quasi-religious language (like sinful, tempting, and guilty pleasure). I agree that food ought to have a moral component, but in the way we assign that now, I think we’re missing the mark. It’s counter-cultural to think about items at the deli as animals; the meat is treated in ways that intentionally distance the food product from the animal itself—in the name of sanitation and convenience—but it also means consumers seldom have to think about actual living creatures. I’m not opposed to meat consumption on principle, but I think we are doing ourselves and our progeny a disservice to pretend meat wasn’t once an animal, and I find questions about industrial food more compelling than endless discussions about BMI. I also can’t help but feel that the issues, at root, are inextricably intertwined.