Julia Gazdag
July 09, 2013 6:00 pm

A heck of a kind of a while ago, Newsweak.com broke the story of an Omaha schoolteacher who got in trouble for organizing a school field trip to a slaughterhouse for her fifth graders. The teacher was quoted as saying, “I didn’t see anything wrong with it. Earlier this year we had a field trip to a chocolate factory. Kids have a curiosity about where their food comes from. I don’t think there should be anything wrong with showing them where meat comes from.”

Of course, Newsweak.com is a news parody site (spoilers!), and none of this was actually real. I only saw it recently because internet things have the shelf life of a Twinkie. It got me thinking, though – what if this was real? Schools take kids on field trips to food factories sometimes, it’s true, but no way is it ever a slaughterhouse. As adults, we might get a Zipcar and go up to the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Vermont, because ice cream. But we don’t stop by any of the farms on the way up and see how a cow is milked (squeeze the teat between the thumb and forefinger and then bring the rest down with pressure, lots of sharp things) let alone butchered.

Well, some of us do. Sort of. I did a three month farming fellowship a few years ago, and there was a goat dairy, so there were lots of goats running around (they eat poison ivy; goats do not f*ck around). At the end of the year, when it got too cold out for the male goats to not freeze to death, they were slaughtered and butchered for meat (the side effects of having a goat dairy). Watching that as a vegetarian of over a decade was intense. Truth be told, watching my friends, who I had become close with over the course of several months of living together in the woods, dive in and skin and butcher these animals they had cared for just gave me more respect for them.

For the rest of our lives, most of us will probably understand something about eating meat that most people won’t give themselves a chance to. Not that I started eating meat. I just respect someone who can butcher an animal, someone who I know had a meaningful experience caring for that animal, because they have a profound grasp of what the ability to take life means when sitting down to a bowl of stew.

It would probably be pretty terrifying to a group of 5th graders to go visit a slaughterhouse (or anyone, ever). Also, a legit, factory-scale, industrial slaughterhouse (just to stick with the chocolate factory parallel) probably wouldn’t let anyone take a tour, let alone a bunch of kids, because they’re busy toeing the lines of safe working conditions for probably-documented-we-checked-sort-of-hey-look-over-there workers. But it does bring up the whole issue of most people not putting much thought into where their food comes from.

What struck me about the piece on newsweak.com was the point that we willfully push away knowledge of where our food comes from when it’s not pretty. I’ve heard so many people say, “I couldn’t watch an animal be slaughtered, I’d never eat meat again.” It’s a luxury of industrialization and large cities that we can even choose not to participate in where our food comes from. The most we do is choose to eat free-range organic or hormone free animals, assuming we can afford it.

I once led a group of middle schoolers in a lesson through a field of mustard greens. Some of them were astonished that their vegetables had a past before ending up on the supermarket shelves. Others were wary of eating pesticide free, clean leafy greens from the ground without washing them. Afterward, they ran inside to lunch where they stuffed themselves with processed mac n cheese, and dessert filled with high fructose corn syrup. At one point, they dining hall had tried to feed the kids only healthy foods, but they simply wouldn’t eat all week.

And so there are field trips to chocolate factories, because it’s where the kids want to go. Even though I have never seen a group of kids as attentive as the one I taught about how mustard greens are grown. To be fair, mustard greens are pretty awesome (it’s salad that tastes like mustard!). All kid-ding aside (PUN!), as adults we have the choice to learn more about food sources on our own. The less we may want to know, the more challenging it is to make ourselves learn. Because we don’t really get to make choices, unless we know what our options even are.

Featured Image by Julia Gazdag

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