Yesterday we buried our cat Jack. We talked to the boys about death, and about how Jack would become part of the ground, and how the flower seeds we planted on top of him would gain nourishment from him.
Today, I took them to Fresh World, an international market (read: not so much an American grocery store). We go there from time to time to look at the live seafood, find rare produce, or pick up other items I just can’t find at Harris Teeter.
Today, as we walked through the meat department, I pointed out to the boys a pile of beef hearts. Miles asked if it hurt the cow to have the heart taken out. I said no, the cow was dead when the heart came out.
What follows is a summary of the next hour and a half or so’s conversation between the two of us, edited for time and clarity:
Me: The cow was dead when they took the heart out. It didn’t hurt.
Miles: Was the cow sick like our cat?
Miles: Was he old like our cat?
Miles: Than how did he die?
Me: He was killed.
Miles: What’s “killed?”
Me: Someone made him die.
Me: I’m not sure. They probably hit him on the head really hard and or cut him with a knife.
Miles: He got a boo-boo and died?
Miles: And they took out his heart?
Miles: Did you take out our cat’s heart?
Me: Because we loved Jack and we buried him.
Miles: Did anyone love the cow?
Me: I don’t know.
Miles: Why didn’t anyone bury him?
Me: Because we don’t usually bury cows. We eat them.
Miles: Why don’t we eat cats?
Me: I don’t really know.
Miles: (asks me what a pack of pig ears are)
Me: (tells him)
Miles: How did the ears come off?
Me: Someone cut them off.
Miles: Did it hurt the pig?
Me: No, he was already dead.
(we go through how livestock dies again)
Miles: What other animal ears do we eat?
Me: I don’t know.
Miles: Do we cut off gorilla ears and eat them?
Miles: (runs through every other animal he can think of that has ears)
Miles: Why do we only eat pig ears?
Me: I don’t know.
The next hour or so was spent with him asking me whether or not we eat various animals. Cats? No. Dogs. No. Well, yes, in some places. Goats? Yes. Ducks? Yes. (Pick an animal. Any animal. We went through them all.)
Miles: Why do we eat some animals and bury some animals?
Me: I don’t really know, exactly.
Conrad (seeing a sparrow out the car window): Do we eat those birds?
Me: They’re too small.
Conrad: Are cats too small?
Conrad: Why don’t we eat cats?
Me: We just don’t.
Miles: Because we love our cats?
Miles: Does anyone love cows?
Miles: Why do we eat cows then?
Me: (brain explodes like an android given a logical paradox)
*a few hours later*
Me: What do you guys want for dinner?
Miles: Hot dogs!
I’d been more or less prepared to talk to the boys about death. I was even more prepared to talk to them about the death of our cat. I was prepared to talk to them about how we kill animals to eat. That the hot dog they enjoy was once a cow and pig and chicken and turkey and chipmunk and orang-utan and whatever else goes into hot dogs.
I wasn’t really prepared to grapple with the questions I have myself. Why don’t we eat this animal, but eat that animal? Why eat horses and not cows? Why do some people eat horses? Why do we have pet birds but also eat birds?
I don’t understand this myself. I figured I had a couple more years before the moral gray area of meat consumption became a topic of conversation for my kids.
I’d love to push a more plant-based diet, but since these guys cringe at any vegetable that hasn’t been rendered unrecognizable and/or deep-fried, I worry that getting an appropriate amount of nutrients into them would become impossible.
Plus, I have to agree with them: bacon and hot dogs for dinner is awesome.