Mommy, Why do We Eat Nice Animals?

The questions from a preschooler just keep getting harder to answer. And today I got a doozy: “Mommy, why do we eat chickens if they are nice animals?”

I thought for a moment and rambled something like, “Well, when chickens get old and pass away then some people eat their meat to help get strong.” Fortunately he didn’t press any further – this time.

This question was coincidentally timely with all the hubbub over horse meat found in Ikea meatballs. The scandal raises questions not just about eating meat in general, but why we have culturally accepted eating some animals and not others. Many Hindis won’t eat cows but will eat sheep. Kosher Jews won’t eat pig but will eat cows. Some people regularly eat rabbit, squirrel, even dogs in some cultures. Where and why do we draw the line?

Personally I am fine with the consumption of almost any animal as long as it is raised and killed humanely. I try very hard to only by grass fed meat, which generally means a more humane and free-range lifestyle for the animals. It is also much tastier. But I often succumb to whatever is available in restaurants. (I did give up beef and pork for a year after learning about the terrors of factory farming but began eating it again with my first pregnancy cravings.)

I think the only animal I’d be unable to eat for ethical reasons is dog because I keep a dog as a pet. However, I know people who keep rabbits as pets and I have no problem eating rabbit stew. But I wonder what our cultural discernment between horses and cows is really all about? Is it because we don’t ride cows? Or is there a drastic difference in taste?

I’m not saying I want to eat horse meat. And the most pressing problem with the Ikea debacle is people not knowing what is in their food! But whether we choose to be vegans or hunters, how do we explain to our children that people do, in fact, eat very nice animals? What do you tell your kids?

p.s. Speaking of non-meat-eaters, I am going to a vegan Passover seder this year. Recipe ideas welcome!

Andy F [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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