One of the most amazing and far-reaching effects of the modern era has been to divorce the eater from the source of his or her food. This social, psychological and moral disconnect has loving parents taking their offspring to a petting zoo and then, less than an hour later, attempting to get those selfsame offspring to eat a fast-food burger.
Even good parents may not understand how some sensitive children, far from being entertained, may be almost terrorized, so I rephrased Patti Page’s 1952 hit single called, “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” to illustrate a point about food in the 21st century.
My aim is to remind city dwellers that their lamb chop, pork chop, beef ribs or chicken drumstick once had a face and two bright eyes, and loved to frolic in the long grass. Or, to make another analogy, when we lose sight of our connection to the things that nourish us, we risk becoming Elois and we denigrate those who provide our food to Morlocks – and that is an ugly and tragic place to find ourselves.
Many inner-city children have never seen a real cow up close and personal, and would likely scream (or at least whimper) if they did. The same is true for a surprising number of adults, who munch their way through a burger without the least awareness, at that essential, almost visceral level, that the beef patty once belonged to a peaceful, grazing bovine with calm brown eyes whose only ambition was to eat, sleep, and occasionally take a run at a human being just to prove its physical superiority. (If you love animals, you’ve got to love cows, they’re so über-cool and totally Zen!)
It’s only in the last few decades that we humans have begun to realize how many traits we have in common with animals, even insects. Fruit fly males who fail to find and impregnate a mate will revert to drinking alcohol (shades of every male who was ever rejected by fair lady!) Bears running wild recently broke into a Norwegian cabin and drank 100 cans of beer: one assumes they took a page from a college fraternity. A pit bull attempting to protect his downed owner, the victim of a hit-and-run, wouldn’t let anyone near the man because he couldn’t identify the threat level police and medics represented. We have all seen the same behavior among Somali mothers whose children are injured. Eventually police officers shot the dog (which makes me wonder why they aren’t equipped with sedating darts).
The same surprises and similarities like a thread of gold through the animal kingdom, connecting one to another. Parrots, dolphins, whales and chimpanzees can be taught to communicate. They can also be seen mourning their dead. In a city park not far from where I once lived, the crows are famous for their ‘funerals’ – which saw 50 to 100 birds silently gathering in the trees and looking down on their fallen comrade.
Pets like dogs and cats, removed from the need to hunt and kill in order to survive, will nurse tiger cubs, kittens, and even chimpanzees in spite of the fact that some of these combinations were previously seen as predator/prey relationships. House cats have been known to make friends with birds and squirrels and chipmunks. I had a neutered male cat a decade ago who decided to protect the nest of deer mice in the stereo speaker instead of rousting them. His commitment to them was so strong that he actually bit my hand when I attempted to move them outside.
I’m not the first to write in this vein. In 2007, ">chef Arlyn Hackett expressed thesame concerns and eventually helped expand the platform of theNational Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame , which was formed to honor America’s pioneer farmers and later broadened in scope help people understand the origins of the food they eat.
If you are an environmentalist and/or a member of the slow food movement, the best thing you can do for your children is teach (and show) them where food comes from. If more people learned early on that a hamburger is just a cow in disguise, they might eat less beef. At the very least, they will be inspired to force CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to reform their wickedly inhumanely activities.