Remember that viral video that did the rounds a few weeks back? The one with the adorable little boy who refused to eat his octopus for dinner? It was a scene that was probably familiar to a lot of us—the moment when the truth hit us, that our dinner was made of dead animals’ bodies chopped into bite sized portions. Here’s my experience as a 4 year old.
What made this little boy’s situation special was that the camera captured his moment of realisation—at about the 60 second mark, when he says, “Nobody eats chicken…those are animals!” Then you can see him thinking…and realising (oh, I remember that feeling!)…and then he agrees to eat just his potatoes and rice. (I was going to embed the video, but since last night it has disappeared from YouTube…what a pity. Well, I’m sure you’ve already seen it anyway.)
Kids seem to be born understanding this stuff
I read lots of comments from people who were amazed at this little boy’s insight, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his feelings are shared by a lot (or even a majority of) young children. At least those who are young enough not to have yet been totally influenced by carnism, so they still see all animals (including human animals) as equal beings with the right to be treated kindly.
Really young children seem to have an understanding of, and compassion for, animals that is socialised out of many people as they grow up. Research from Jill Anderson at Harvard suggests that 6 – 10 year old kids are perfectly able to make moral decisions about eating meat, independent of their families.
It seems that somewhere along the way, because of pressure or other environmental influences, a lot of us lose that understanding and continue eating meat…for a while at least.
Lots of adults seem to have forgotten it
Last week, Miles Franklin-award-winning author Anna Funder (perhaps prompted by the octopus video) wrote an article for The Age called ‘Telling your kids the truth about eating meat’. She wrote about the moment when her 3-year-old son had the realisation “His blue eyes widen with horror” and he asks, “But what if they don’t want for us to eat them?” (I’m with him!)
Unfortunately, Funder is not sympathetic. In her response she mentions that she’s “loathe to spend my middle age manufacturing complicated nutritionally compensatory meals for vegetarian children to push around their plates until they can have their dessert”. In explanation, she adds, “children do not draw the species distinctions that adults do”…well, not all adults do, Anna!
What most annoys me about this article is that a huge number of people will read an article by her (because of who she is) and will get the idea that successful and important people don’t waste their time showing compassion to animals, and that it’s naïve to care. She just trivialises the whole issue, and shows far less insight than the boy from the octopus video.
Melanie Joy touring Australia
It sounds to me like Anna Funder should get along to hear Melanie Joy when she comes to Australia next month to speak about carnism. She believes that social and psychological defences “block our awareness and empathy when it comes to farmed animals and products procured from their bodies”. She’s coming to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. I’ve got my tickets!
Since I can’t embed the adorable toddler video, here’s Melanie Joy explaining carnism.