We have a sweet little pond on the farm where my kids enjoy catching frogs and going fishing. They spend hours down there, unsupervised, and find all sorts of creatures, make up games, and do other “kid” things. This is spring break week and the kids are hanging around. My son (age 12) is working in the mornings and my daughter (age 10) is in a cooking “camp” for a few hours each day. The weather has been unusually warm, so the kids have been spending nearly all day outside. It’s been great.
The other morning, my daughter and her friend went down to the pond, buckets in hand to catch some creatures, and were horrified to find a dead sheep. They came running into the kitchen, where I was cooking lunch for the farm crew, to tell me I had to come see it. As we walked out towards the pond, they vividly described how “intestines were all over the grass, the heart was near a rock, and there was an explosion of blood everywhere”. When we finally got to the scene, I had to agree with their depiction. The carcass had been completely gutted, and the organs were gone. There was a lot of blood and wool all over the grass. There were flies all over the body. It was really gross.
“Looks like a coyote got to this one.” I said. “These things happen on a farm sometimes. We do our best to protect them with fencing and the dogs, but sometimes the coyotes figure it out.” The two girls were quiet as we walked back to the house for lunch. I thought to myself that this might be one of those traumatic scenes from childhood that sticks with them unless I somehow diffuse it. “Um, does anybody need to talk about this? Are you guys feeling ok about what you saw?”
“It was the grossest thing I’ve ever seen!” said my daughter’s friend. My daughter just kept her head down and didn’t say much.
Earlier that day, Julie Mayfield sent me and Robb a group text with a link to this story, about how a farmer was trying to defend his rights to kill and consume a cow on his own farm. A group of activists trying to “save” this cow from being killed were trying to stop him. The guy is a farmer. He’s raising a cow. Humans are omnivores. People are trying to tell him he can’t eat his own cow? Are you kidding me? Anyway, I texted them back an image of what the girls found on the farm, saying how THIS is what happens when something dies “naturally”. I’ll spare you the image.
Robb’s reply was this:
After lunch, I was sitting at my computer working. The girls were playing when I heard Phoebe say to her friend, “Hang on, I have to go tell my mom something”. She came running to me and hugged me and broke down crying. I know how upset she was. I can only imagine being a 10yr old girl, happily looking forward to catching some good frogs, and being jolted by that massacre. It must have been pretty chilling.
“It’s totally normal for you to have been surprised by what you saw. Nature can be pretty cruel sometimes. This is how things often die in nature. When we raise animals here on the farm, we try to make sure they die in the least stressful way possible. When they get processed, it’s quick. Out in the real world, when a prey animal dies, it can be pretty drawn out and painful. Coyotes need to eat, too.” I immediate recalled a recent blog post by Caroline Watson about the morals of eating meat. She referenced a video of a live wildebeest being eaten/disemboweled by a hyena. It perfectly illustrates how important it is not to have any sort of delusions about “natural death” being peaceful.
As someone who is involved in raising and killing animals, how they die is something that, contrary to what many vegans think, responsible producers really care about. I actually helped to produce this short video about the a woman who works at a humane slaughterhouse, and how she views her important job to help take these animals into the next phase of their existence.
Nature is sometimes gruesome. Us humans are so far removed from the cycles of life and death that when we see death, we find it terrifying. The fact is, death is a completely normal part of life. You simply cannot have life without death.
Now I had to drop off Phoebe’s friend and tell the mom what the girls saw and hope that she wouldn’t sue me. Luckily, the mom is a member of the farm CSA, has my books, and I was relieved when she wasn’t furious with me. I felt really bad for what her daughter had seen. Not many suburban kids see situations like that on playdates. Phew!
That evening, when my husband and I were tucking in Phoebe for bed, she started crying again. She needed to further process what she saw. I was glad Andrew was there with me. He’s a really incredible dad and does a great job of explaining complicated things in an easy way to the kids. Most kids think he’s a superhero. He told Phoebe how the sheep lived a good life, had fed the coyote, and he how he buried the rest of the sheep’s body in the compost and it’s going into the soil to feed the vegetables.
“Soil is a living thing. There are tiny organisms in the soil that need the nutrients in that sheep. Those bones in the sheep will turn into calcium to grow better kale. Everything dies and comes back again.” he said.
Phoebe sat right up. Something clicked, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that those bones turn into vegetables? Can you TASTE them? I’m eating BONES when I eat vegetables?”
“No, you can’t taste them, but you are eating bones and blood and lots of other things when you eat vegetables,” he explained.
“So, then it’s impossible to be a vegan! If soil is living, and everything dead comes back to life, then you can’t possibly eat without eating something that has died.” she exclaimed.
Andrew and I both looked at each other and our eyes popped out of our head. Wow, she made that leap pretty swiftly. I have to say I was thrilled at how quickly those little wheels in her brain cranked. The kid is sharp. She slept without any nightmares of sheep blood. She hasn’t brought it up since. The subject is closed for now. She gets it, and she got the big picture on her own without me having to make all the associations for her. I wish all kids (and adults) had the chance to learn about life and death by roaming freely outside and making the connection that it’s impossible to be a vegan.