Friday, January 24, 2014

Teaching Kids Where Meat Comes From...Am I Doing it Right?

Over the last year or so I have been thinking off and on about how to teach my kids about where that pork chop on their plate comes from.  I'm not sure if I am taking the "right" approach, or what, but I do know I want them to know that meat is from animals that used to be alive on a farm somewhere.  I am glad that I have started teaching them this early on, as it makes it a "matter of fact" topic, not a surprise later on that turns them into little vegetarians, the thought of cute farm animals becoming dinner turning them forever from proper nutrition.  (Now, when I say proper nutrition I mean exactly that:  clean meat from quality sources is an essential part of the human diet.  Maybe that doesn't work for you.  That's fine!  To each his own.)

I had my brief stint as a vegetarian, like so many teenage girls do, in high school.  I'm not sure how I really managed it, and I think it wasn't for a very long period of time (I recently asked my mom if she remembered that time:  "yeah, that was annoying", she said.  I agree!  Ha ha ha!).  I still ate chicken, eggs and fish and called myself an "ovo-lacto" vegetarian.  It sounded so cool!  Ridiculous to me now, but hey, that is what peer pressure does to a kid.  I think the thought of animals being treated cruelly and then eating them grossed me out, and I didn't have a good connection of where food (meat) actually came from as a small child.  So I was squeamish about touching raw meat to cook it, and this was an embarrassing quality in a culinary student.

Yep, I was in a culinary arts class for two of my years at high school, and then went on to a year of culinary school.  Guess how long vegetarianism lasted for me in culinary school?  Not very long!  Less than 4 weeks.  The first red meat I ate in over a year was a bacon cheeseburger; all of it made from scratch at the school.  Oh, it was heaven!  Something about that burger and is magical qualities still make me swoon.

Butchery classes in school were very very hard for me, but I was determined to not be too much of a wussy and forced myself to hack up the carcasses along with everyone else, without complaint.  I was there to learn, after all, and it wasn't free.  I recall the number one rule about trying food and tasting food in school was "try it at least twice".  The reason being of course that you needed to know what the food tasted like, in order to become a good cook.  So, you do actually need to at least taste that rabbit fricassee so you understand what rabbit tastes like and how to cook it properly.  Otherwise...what on earth are you doing in culinary school?

I have a couple of very inquisitive kids who ask questions all the time, so teaching them about where meat comes from hasn't been too hard.  My eldest has asked me outright where bacon comes from, so I told her.  She still thinks it is delicious "pig meat".  I will do the same for every meat and fish and fowl that they ask about, and we will probably someday visit a farm, to purchase a whole or half cow or pig, maybe some fresh chicken.  Then they will start to get a better idea.  They are 3 and almost 5 years old now, so we have plenty of time to teach them.

I think it is becoming more clear to many people that most Americans are not mentally connected with the food chain and how we humans are involved in it.  Our role in the food chain is becoming more clear to a lot of people, as evidenced by the many farmers selling pastured meats and poultry at farmer's markets, as well as natural grocery stores and the paleo and WAPF (Weston A. Price Foundation) food movement. If you have ever watched a documentary about the food industry, you know what I am talking about.  (Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, etc.)  I think it is important to be involved in knowing where your food comes from, how it was handled or treated, what was used to feed or nourish it, and how it was processed or slaughtered.  We are what we eat, and if we eat sick, malnourished and mistreated animals, we are not going to be healthy either.  This is at times an overwhelming topic, I know, but if you just take it one thing at a time it is possible to educate yourself, and to take steps to change your purchasing habits.

While teaching your kids about where the meat on their plate comes from seems pretty daunting at times, I have found just taking it one question at a time, and taking advantage of teaching opportunities as they come up to be a good way to go.  If your kids don't ask, or have never asked you about it, being able to bring it up in conversation at appropriate times will still work.  Probably not while you are at the dinner table, if you suspect your kids might get a little upset about eating a cute farm animal.

Do you remember learning about where meat came from as a child?  How connected are you to your food sources?