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.
My family’s new obsession is fruit picking, and we are lucky to live in an area ripe with such opportunities. We spent Sunday morning picking raspberries off their bushes and apples off their trees, accompanied by a cool autumn breeze and a majestic view of the Catskill Mountains. I am determined to raise a child who knows and appreciates where food comes from, even if we don’t always have the time or chance to spend our weekends in the orchard. The final cost of the fruit is the same (or even less) than we pay at the store, but picking for ourselves reminds us of the labor and the creativity involved in the process. Our food, in all its bounty, originally comes from our Creator. Recognizing and honoring His hand in the process might just require thinking more about the farms and rethinking the factories. And I think that paradigm shift toward transparency and thankfulness could ultimately be as healthy for our bodies as for our spirits.