It’s not that I’ve deliberately gone out of my way to try and pull the wool over my children’s eyes when it comes to the truth about meat but there’s never really been a great opportunity or opening for me to explain things properly; because of this, their view seems to be somewhat skewed.
I suppose when Florence was teeny tiny, under two I think and on the way back from a play group, I had one moment in time when I could have bitten the bullet but I just felt that it wasn’t appropriate. For some reason Florence had been talking about bacon and a Jewish friend of mine piped up with something along the lines of ‘WE don’t eat Peppa Pig like you!’ (a trifle odd but there we are) and my little baby girl’s eyes had widened in horror as they looked up at me for reassurance that neither did she! Of course I skimmed over it, all the time saying ‘we don’t eat Peppa Pig darling, how ridiculous, she was just making a silly joke’ and then the moment never came up again. She’d never actually flat out asked me ‘Where does meat come from Mummy?’ You see she thought she knew, it comes from the supermarket as far as she’s concerned… So I’d always managed to avoid the subject in one way or another and that, I guess, suited.
I was aware at one point that she thought ALL meat was chicken and because it was chicken she was prepared to eat it. If we told her something was lamb or beef or pork then she’d flatly refuse, so for ease and quick meal times, I indulged in the white lie and responded with ‘chicken’ every time she asked. It became apparent that she viewed chicken from the supermarket as entirely different to chickens at the farm and at that point I tried for the first time to REALLY explain. I told her, rather truth colouringly, that when an old chicken dies and goes to heaven, we can eat it. She looked a bit horrified and then she giggled ‘You’re just joking Mummy’ she said and went back to what she was doing.
After she started school and began having school meals Florence would mention this dish she particularly likes which is made with brown meat. ‘Brown meat? Do you mean lamb darling?’ I asked her one day, I knew it couldn’t be beef as they don’t serve it at her school. Again I got those eyes. Again I back tracked. ‘It’s probably chicken I mumbled’… ‘No Mummy, it’s not chicken, it’s just brown meat’. I think by now I realised we didn’t do her right when it comes to knowing about meat but by now I was in too deep. She’s never eaten particularly well and I always hold my breath a little when a meal comes out, waiting to see if she will manage more than a few forkfulls. If I told her the truth about chicken AND brown meat I would almost certainly be removing two of the things she would now consume without fuss… I wimped out. Again I left it.
Any roast dinner, be it gammon, beef, pork or indeed chicken and Florence got the same answer. ‘Yes my love, it’s chicken, the same chicken you get in the supermarket’ knowing full well she considered that chicken to be the food she likes and the farm chickens her feathery friends. How much damage could I be doing eh? She’s incredibly bright, way ahead of her year group in both reading and maths, at some point she’d realise and get it because she’d be mature enough to cope… I mean there aren’t fifteen year olds who believe that everything is a mythical chicken that grows in a veg patch right?!?!
However, my hand was forced. By something incredibly funny but so telling that I absolutely SHOULD have explained things better, earlier…
We were at Camp Bestival and on our way out to leave at the end, we walked past one of the food stalls and it happened to be spit roasting a pig. ‘Look Mummy!’ she said, ‘They’ve shaped that chicken like a pig, how funny!’ NO WORD OF A LIE!
‘Um…’ I mumbled ‘Well… Yes, how funny indeed’ I replied but I knew. I just knew that I couldn’t leave it at that. When we’d packed up the car I brought up the subject again.
‘You know that chicken pig?’ I said ‘Yes Mummy, why would they do that?’ I had to come clean ‘They didn’t Florence, you see, that chicken pig is, in fact, just a pig. And um, people eat pigs. Not cartoon pigs, just you know, ones on the farm. That are very, very old and have gone to heaven (I couldn’t TOTALLY do it – I’m sorry) and you know, sometimes people eat them.’
‘REALLY?!’ But I had to keep going. ‘Yep, yes, they do with lots of animals actually. Chicken is really old, gone to heaven chickens and beef is really old, gone to heaven cows and lamb is… Lambs are… Ok, let’s not discuss lambs, and then there’s the brown meat you get at school. Meat is, you know, animals.’
‘Oh’ she said. And then she fell about laughing. ‘I thought they’d made a chicken look like a pig!’ ‘Yes’ I replied ‘That was very funny’ and we both laughed and then the conversation was over and I thought great, she understands.
And then… A while later she was tucking into some slow roasted pork and she said something like ‘I really lke this chicken Mummy’.
Actually Florence, that chicken is, um, pork’. And then ‘What’s pork?’ she asked? ‘Well, it’s very old… (you know the drill), gone to heaven pigs’. She put her cuttlery down. She pushed her plate away. And I caved.
‘Not really, it’s just chicken!’ I quickly replied. But she’d become very grown up, she’d got too wiley. ‘No. I’m not eating it, I do NOT eat pigs’ she said. And that was that.
She’d not asked again since then until last night. We were having a Chinese take away and Jimmy was eating his Chinese roast pork chow mein with gusto but leaving all the meat. ‘I don’t like the chicken’ he said. ‘I don’t want it, I only want the noodles’. ‘I’ll have your chicken’ said Florence, ‘I LOVE the chicken’!
And I couldn’t. They were eating and enjoying it and I just couldn’t. So while the rest of us had Chinese roast pork chow mein, Jimmy left the chicken in his and Florence ate double – she LOVES chicken… And I told you, I’m a wimp!
But you don’t get fifteen year olds who go around thinking there’s the chicken on the farm and the chicken that grows in a veg patch, do you?!