A couple of weeks ago on #AnimalTales Emma posted a very thought provoking post about whether petting farms are in fact dumming down farming. Now I am a farmer's daughter. I was brought up knowing where the eggs and the meat on my plate came from. I have seen birth and death first hand and I was also brought up with a healthy dose of James Herriot vet programmes where the young vet was always in at the deep end and the actor who played him really did have his hand up that cow/sheep's vagina. I too have done the same in order to get a stuck lamb out so I think it is safe to say I understand the work that is involved getting meat to your plate. However, in today's world, many people are far removed from the realities of farming: their meat arrives all cut up and bearing no resemblance to the animal it came from and with no indication of the hard work the farmer undertook to get it there. In Emma's post a lady was horrified when she saw a video about true life sheep farming (Addicted to sheep) as I suppose her view of farms had been dummed down by the more sanitised petting farms where the real working side of things is kept hidden away.
Which brings me to Peppa Pig ... well not just Peppa, to be fair, but any adorable farm animal from a popular children's TV show or book. You see Peppa Pig and friends are not real farm animals. They often walk on 2 feet, talk, wear clothes etc and in doing so this is the image children develop as to what farm animals are really like. And parents are happy to feed into this myth with many not prepared to tell their children the truth - that the sausage on their dinner plate is made from pork which come from pigs. I have heard of a mother told her children that the pigs no longer in the field had "gone on holiday" when in fact they have gone to the abattoir and perhaps even worse that pigs "lay sausages". REALLY?
In my experience children are actually very good at accepting the truth if it is told to them sympathetically. However if they are lied to then that truth is much harder to accept when they do eventually realise it. And realise it they will, however much parents try to hide it. Back in the UK, I worked with school children doing environmental projects and if I had a spare few minutes at the end of a session I had a short activity on food chains which I started asking what the children ate for dinner the night before. One girl put up her hand and told me she'd eaten sausages. "Ah, so that would be pork then," I said, "which of course comes from a pig". Well, if you could have seen that girl's face. She had no idea. Oh and she wasn't particularly young either, as this was a class of 9/10 year olds.
So my point is this: are the likes of Peppa Pig, who no child would ever consider eating, leading parents to lie to children and distancing children from the realities of farming? I am not saying for one moment that every child should be out on the farm delivering young animals (although some do and if you Google "3 year old lambing" you'll see a video of a 3 year old girl doing just that) but I do think children should be told the truth and certainly not told lies about where their food comes from. I also believe that if they understand the true workings of a farm they will be more likely to buy meat that has been ethically-produced, rather than factory-farmed. Peppa Pig is not real. Pigs are however real and in order that good pig welfare is to be encouraged people need to know the ins and outs of farming, how animals are cared for and what constitutes good farm welfare. Without this knowledge it is all too easy to disassociate the meat of your plate from the farm animal and so for too many people it is not a problem eating meat produced in the horrendous conditions of many factory farms.
OK, I would not expect to find Peppa Pig sausages on the shelves of your local supermarket any time soon but I do feel children and adults need to be a lot more aware of where their food comes from and appreciate the hard work of the farmers who make those sausage dinners possible.