I had a strange dream the other night: in it T., and a friend, were eating salami. T. was blithely munching away when slowly a horrified look spread over her face.
"Is this meat?" She asked, dropping the salami like it was on fire.
And I don't remember anything else after that.
I know why I had the dream. One day last week T. came home asking what salami was. Apparently a girl next to her in the cafeteria had a tupperware full of salami slices, and she waved them in front of T. T. was confused. Salami? She asked the girl what salami was, and the girl said, "it's smooshed-up meat."
"What kind of meat?" T. asked.
The girl didn't know, and didn't seem to care, one way or the other. But T. cared, because when she came home, she wanted to know what kind of meat went into this thing called salami.
(As it turns out, salami is highly cured cow and/or pig pressed together.)
My conversation with T. really brought home to me what it means to raise your children as vegetarians. I thought about how meat has never crossed the lips of either one of my kids (I take that back--T. inadvertently ate a piece of hot dog when she was two and promptly threw it up) and because of this, I firmly believe, they are always curious about what animal goes into what meat because, let's face it, at the other end of that small, flat piece of compressed meat called salami was a living, breathing, flesh and blood animal (or two or three). Because they don't eat meat, they are free to examine, with curiousity, why people eat it, and where it comes from. I do think this separates them from their meat-eating peers, who might already have learned to disconnect themselves from the animal at the other end of the hot dog.
As I mentioned yesterday, I'm about halfway through Jonathan Safron Foer's Eating Animals, a must-read, if ever there were one, for everyone but, I think, especially for parents. I've written before about how I believe, no matter what food choices you and your family make, that it's critical--imperative--morally necessary--that you talk openly and honestly about where your food comes from. Beef=cow, and pork=pig, veal=baby cows and those dinosaur-shaped frozen nuggets=chicken, or, at least, supposed to be. We need to talk candidly about how meat is processed, so our children can get back in touch with what, according to Foer, was once the eat to care ethic which, a long time ago, was the dominant ethic toward domestic animals. Somehow, over the years, because of the monstrous boom of the factory farming industry, and the cultural dominance fast-food chains hold over our society, a huge and dangerous divide has spread between us and where our food comes from. Foer calls this a type of "forgetting", as we push to view meat in more and more abstract terms, so we no longer have to think about the animal and the suffering at the other end of it. Because, as Foer points out so well, the suffering a factory-farmed and so-called free range animal endures is what we should concern ourselves with, not the actual slaughter, brutal though it is.
I haven't finished Foer's book yet, but I'm getting there. I can say, though, that I have learned more from it than I have from any book I've read in a long while--and I've been a vegetarian for almost 15 years now. I don't consider myself a preachy person, and I have always avoided being preachy about vegetarianism in particular, but after reading Foer's book I can't help but feel compelled to become a little more outspoken, and a little more outraged (some facts from Foer's book: did you know that to be considered "free range" the animal has to have "access to the outdoors" but that this most often means thirty-thousand chickens crammed into a shed, with a tiny, virtually useless door at one end? Did you know that animal agriculture contributes over 40% to global warming than all transportation in the world combined? That for the past half century we've genetically engineered two types of chickens, broilers, that make flesh, and layers, that make eggs? Or that every turkey sold in stores and served in restaurants is the product of artificial insemination?). I am caught up, as Foer is himself, in the vision of a meatless world, a world where we learn to eat with care again, a world filled with a whole new generation of children who might never have tasted meat, rising to help to close that divide, heal that gash in the ground, this damaged earth.