Sometimes unlearning is as important as learning. It is for this reason adults can benefit so much from listening to children, and from keeping in touch with our own childhood instincts.
How many children have the experience of realizing where “meat” comes from, and feeling horrified? (I know I did!) How many parents have had that conversation with your own kids? What did you tell them? What was said to you when you had that experience as a child?
We teach our children that what they’re feeling is unjustified, and we tell them what was told to us, which is that it’s natural & necessary for us to kill animals for food. How natural can it possibly be if we have to convince kids of it? What, then, does ‘natural’ mean? We tell them they have to grow up & toughen up, obstructing their natural instinct to be compassionate. I initially ended that sentence with “…compassionate toward all animals” but then I realized that might give you the impression that it only impedes compassion toward all animals, when, in fact, it impedes compassion, period. Many adults no longer have the emotional connection that would allow them to feel pain on behalf of animals – to care about their suffering. This emotional connection is called empathy, and it must be lost in order to be seen as a “mature” person. (This is probably part of why vegans are so commonly ridiculed.) Often, the first place that children are taught not to practice empathy is in their food choices.
Do you not find it incredibly bizarre that one of the first signs of psychopathy in children and the possibility of future violence toward other humans is cruelty toward animals, but at the same time we actively and passively teach children that killing and dismembering animals is okay, as long as it’s only certain animals, and only for food – oh, no, wait – for sport, too. What’s the difference between the “psychopathic” child’s and the “normal” adult’s behavior? Tell me again, I forgot.
Have you ever had to convince a (mentally stable) child that they should care about animals? Of course not! Even the vast majority of adults care about animals in general. The difference is that young children still see all animals as they are – equal, while adults have been socially conditioned to accept the disconnect between caring about and eating animals. See, humans are really good at categorizing. We learn to categorize animals into emotional/intelligent/pet and senseless/stupid/beast, allowing us to treat the 2 categories differently. What we need to unlearn is this categorization, and what we need to learn from the instincts of children is that the ability to experience pain and suffering and loss is the same for a cow and a dog and a pig and an elephant and a human. Bovine mothers scream and cry and try to chase down the culprit when their babies are stolen from them, just like human mothers. That is what I mean by loss: the pain suffered when a loved one is gone.
And for those of you who are wondering why we should care, why it matters whether we feel empathy for animals, perhaps needing a slightly more anthropocentric reason, consider this:
Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages. ~ Thomas Edison
For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love. ~ Pythagoras
We hide the reality of our treatment of animals behind a facade of pretty packaging because, well, better out of sight out of mind just in case some of us have some empathy left. But if we showed that truth to our children – all our children – the world would turn vegan practically overnight.
For more information, read this published study: Stewart & Cole 2009 – The conceptual separation of food and animals in childhood.