Where does meat come from?

By Warren McKay
Monday, 8th February 2010

I was working with a group of preschool children - four- and five-year-olds - and I asked them where milk came from. The immediate response was, “From the shop.” With a little more questioning, we found that a few of them knew that it came from cows. They didn’t know how or where on the cow, but they were all happy with the fact that milk came from cows. There are lots storybooks about farms and farm animals, so they had a little knowledge, which we expanded upon.

I then asked them where meat came from. Again came the predictable response of “From the shop.” In this town, there was a butcher’s shop and quite a few of the children told me that meat came from the butcher’s. I asked them where the butcher gets the meat. “He makes it,” they agreed.

There are no popular books or stories, fictional or factual, that inform children where meat comes from, so they deducted their own ‘logical’ conclusion. Even the story of The Three Little Pigs has changed over the years. Once, the wolf blew down their houses and ate the first two little pigs. Now, as he blows down the house of straw and then the house of sticks, the pigs run to their brother’s house made of bricks and do not get eaten.

Now, you may think, ‘The butcher makes it’ is acceptable thinking for young children. However, unfortunately, many of them grow to adults and still don’t know where meat comes from. I remember a number of years ago the National Farmers Federation did a survey to assess (city) people’s understanding of the same questions (among others) that I asked the young children. It’s scary to think that the results were not very different.

I buy chicken frames from the local chicken abattoir to feed to my dogs. Recently, I went to pick up my order and was greeted by Sally, a Year 11 high school student who works in the retail outlet attached to the abattoir. She always has a smile and greets you by name and asks how you are going. This particular day, I mentioned that I had just picked up my airline tickets for Africa and the script followed the usual line of, “Are you going on a holiday?” “I’m going hunting,” I replied. Then, with a complete change in the tone of her voice, she said, “You’re not going to kill animals, are you?” I leaned over the counter and quietly said, “Sally, what do they do here?” There was silence for a moment and she replied slowly, “I’ve never thought about that.”

It is a simple fact, but one that most people never give a thought to. If you eat meat of any description, then you must either kill the animals yourself or you, usually indirectly, pay someone else to do it for you. What else is the purpose of abattoirs and butchers?

It’s probably safe to say that few people ever consider, as they line up for the KFC, McDonald’s or whatever take-away foods they eat, that the food they are getting contains meat, let alone that it came from a once-living animal.

If we don’t teach our children the ‘real facts of life’, so they understand just where their food comes from, then is it any wonder that we have so many people who are divorced from reality when it comes to dealing with animals? While it may be someone’s choice to be a vegetarian, it doesn’t preclude the simple fact that our metabolic function evolved to utilise meat as a source of nutrition.