(This is a guest post by my good friend Katherine. Her post shows that we still have a long way to go in changing how the world thinks about animals.)
Our oldest child, Emma Kate, is in kindergarten this year. Today we were invited to the “Kindergarten Pow-Wow.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew they had been practicing songs and parents had been asked to provide food for the children to eat. The children filed into the cafeteria, took their seats on the floor, and began to sing a variety of Thanksgiving-related songs. The first offering was a sweet melody about being thankful for stars and trees, but it wasn’t long before the subject matter turned to turkeys. Even though Emma Kate attended preschool for several years, these turkey songs had not made it onto my radar. I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over two and a half years, and as the songs progressed, I became more and more uncomfortable. Here are the words to one of the songs they sang:
(to the tune of Frere Jacque)
Mr. Turkey, Mr. Turkey
Run away, run away
If you are not careful
You will be a mouthful
All of a sudden I was struck by how utterly one-sided the Thanksgiving curriculum must have been, and on a larger scale, how our children are indoctrinated to eat meat and dissociate from it by making fun of the animals. As if poor Mr. Turkey has a choice! In fact, the lyrics to this song go beyond teasing the turkey to blaming him for his own plight.
Proof of this indoctrination came when the singing portion of the program ended. As the children ate their pow-wow meal (which was interestingly vegan except for the Rice Krispie treats), a slide show played with slides containing “recipes” for a Thanksgiving dish provided verbatim by the children. This was a cute idea, but many of the children chose turkey for their recipe, and more than I would have expected mentioned killing the turkey as the first step. I was surprised to see that at 5 years old, quite a few of these kids had no qualms about taking a life for their Thanksgiving dinner.
Emma Kate considers herself a vegetarian, but she’ll be the first to tell you that she loves bacon (and I don’t mean tempeh bacon). Since I stopped eating meat, I have been honest with her about the origins of her food, but have told her that what she eats is up to her (her 18 month old brother, however, is being raised vegetarian – and dad is a carnivore – we’re a bit of a mixed up family). At the beginning of tonight’s dinner, after hearing Emma Kate belt out the Mr. Turkey song once more, I asked her what she thought about the song. She answered that it was about a turkey, and I probed a little further. Once she could see what I was thinking, she jumped pretty quickly into agreeing with whatever I said. She tends to do this whenever vegetarianism is discussed, so it’s hard to figure out her truest thoughts. However, at the end of our discussion, I was saying that I thought the turkey wanted to stay alive, and that it sometimes hurts to die, and she said, “Yeah, the turkey has to suffer.” Who knows what will come of this? Part of me is rooting for her to go to school tomorrow and inform the teacher or a classmate that she feels sorry for the turkeys. Part of me hopes she mulls it over, makes some connections and eventually decides to forgo bacon. I hope at the very least, she will be able to think a bit more critically of similar songs in the future.
Unfortuately, based on what I saw today, I doubt there were similar conversations around the dinner tables of Emma Kate’s schoolmates tonight. I now understand that if I want my children to be exposed to different points of view, I need to make these conversations a priority. I’m glad to have this awareness for my own family, and the greater awareness of how many opportunities for change remain for our culture, but at the same time, the task seems larger and more difficult than I previously believed. If you think of this scenario going on in thousands of elementary schools across the country this week, that’s a lot of reinforcement of meat-eating as the norm.