Jean L Clavelle
A few weeks ago we were sitting around watching a Disney cartoon with our two young children before bedtime activities started. One of the more senior members of our family who happened to be in the room with us (a recent retiree from farming) made a comment that went something like “Disney has ruined society’s perception of animal agriculture”. At first, I brushed it off with a laugh but have been thinking that perhaps that statement holds more truth than I first thought.
Animals are animals, not people. They are not secretly speaking our language when we are not around despite every hilarious Far Side cartoon in the Sunday paper. Cows do not wear aprons, pigs do not ride skate boards, dogs do not have problem solving skills of an adequate level to save the world from imminent disaster (although I will admit all of those concepts make terrific story lines for toddlers). Even though animals do communicate, form social bonds, have mothering instincts and relationships, they are not humans. They do not share our social structure, our language, our problem solving ability or our emotions. They are animals.
So when faced with the overwhelming messages of Disney and other tv shows, movies, toys, and books that show animals as having human characteristics how do we raise our children to understand that this portrayal of animals is not real?
My first thought is that I will teach them the main principles of raising animals on the farm – whether that be a dog, cattle, chickens, a horse or a ginuea pig. With livestock you quickly learn that their needs come before your own. It doesn’t matter if you are tired or hungry or cold because you’ve been outside all day, if the animals need to be looked after you better get outside and make sure they are fed and watered and comfortable. Raising animals means that you treat them when they are sick. If an animal has an illness that can be treated with antibiotics then antibiotics are used so that animal does not suffer. Raising animals means that you have a responsibility to use the latest techniques that will benefit not just the animal but the environment because that is the right thing to do.
Above all it means that you treat them with respect. Whether they are simply companions or whether they are giving us milk or eggs or will be butchered they are to be valued with kindness and empathy. And this does not mean giving them a luxury stall at the most expensive equestrian center or the finest silk day bed to lounge on while you are at work. We must truly understand what that animal needs as an individual of a particular species. Just as animals are not humans, dogs are not cats, beef cattle are not goats, horses can not be treated like pigs. It is up to us, the people who care for them, to understand what they need in terms of their environment, their social activities, their nutrition. And that is part of the process of respect.
I want my children to know that we will use those that pig for bacon, that beef animal for steak, and that dairy cow will give us milk. But what a better way to teach them gratitude for the food in their bellies than to show them where food comes from. It does not come from a grocery store. As an adult I am now more grateful than ever, each time I sit down to a beautiful bacon and egg breakfast that I am involved in raising the animals that gave it to me. I hope my kids have that same appreciation. Even if I to continue to let them watch Disney cartoons.