Crawling along the 401 at rush hour with my three nine-year-olds, I found myself beside a transport truck full of cows heading to slaughter. While my twins have become used to seeing these trucks on the road, my stepdaughter was in shock. “What is it?” she shouted, sensing unease in the car. My daughter answered for me. “It’s a truck full of cows going to be killed,” she said.
The stream of questions that followed went like this: “Where are they going?” “Are they with their moms?” “Who kills them?” “Are they scared?”
The hardest question for me to answer was, “Are they scared?” When it landed we were virtually at a dead stop, all of us noticing at the same time a big brown eye staring out through a slat in the side of the truck. Of course they’re scared. They’re terrified. They’re hungry and confused. I swallowed those words and said only, “I hope not.”
Here’s an email excerpt from an animal rights organization called Mercy for Animals, regarding Canada’s transport industry:
“Canada’s outdated livestock transport regulations are downright disgraceful. We lag behind the rest of the Western world and allow farmed animals to be trucked thousands of kilometres for up to 52 hours without any food, water, or rest. As a result, millions of animals suffer agonizing deaths from dehydration, starvation, suffocation, and severe injuries due to overcrowding.”
I don’t know anyone who isn’t rattled when face to face with one of those trucks, whether meat eater, vegetarian or vegan. We are all disturbed. Children are horrified.
My twins are nine and my step kids are nine and eleven. I find myself on a very slippery slope with them these days. They see how Jay and I eat and they ask questions. Difficult questions. Why are we not eating the same food as them?
I stopped eating meat in my early twenties. It was my choice and my parents were very supportive. I’ve always thought I could dodge this uncomfortable but inevitable discussion until my kids were old enough to understand my motivations, develop their own ideas and then make their own choices. It now seems this may not be possible.
I’m worried that by not answering some of their questions and keeping my own beliefs behind a curtain, I am being dishonest with them. I’m worried that once they educate themselves the way I have, there is a very good possibility they will be angry with me. The one thing I have zero tolerance for in our house is dishonesty. Why was I cooking my children hamburgers and eggs and sending yogurt in their school lunches when I myself was eating healthy plant-based alternatives and living very happily.
This is very complicated for me.
It’s only a matter of time before we’re going to have to face the reality that the way we treat the animals we consume is inhumane and unsustainable.
I think the workers employed by slaughterhouses and the CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations or “factory farms”) should be of equal or arguably greater concern. I try to imagine the affect on the human psyche of these relentless jobs of killing, or overseeing the animals until they go to slaughter and am almost unable to process how difficult it must be, day in and day out. This is a big conversation and one I am only just beginning to try to understand. Sir Paul McCartney has said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” This runs through my head a lot.
I believe our children are going to be at the forefront of change that might just save our planet. But when should that change begin? And where?
If anyone out there has had a similar experience with their children or is grappling with the similar questions, I would love to hear from you.