By Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune
My 7-year-old loves bacon.
She loves it almost as much she loves pigs who are still alive.
And so our recent farm visit to witness a slaughter was not easy.
For years I’ve been talking to Miranda and her brother, Joe, about appreciating the sources of our food. I’ve introduced them to the farmers who provide our fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and meat. They’ve met many cows, chickens and hogs who even more directly provide us with that food. But what they hadn’t seen was how those happy hogs become the ribs, bacon and sausages on our plates. Miranda agreed to see it; Joe stayed home.
We were at Faith’s Farm in Kankakee County, where owner Kim Snyder invited her friends from the city — chefs, farmers market managers, brewers, writers and food industry types — to meet her friends from the country — a butcher, a potter, many sustainable farmers and even a conventional rancher.
We’d come to tour her farm, cook together, talk and observe Snyder’s animals, from the frisky little piglets roaming the grounds to the unfortunate hog who would be butchered that day.
To my relief, I wasn’t the only one who brought a child. In fact, there were three 7-year-olds on the farm that day. Among them was Abigail Faith, Kim’s gentle daughter, who had seen slaughters before.
“Don’t worry,” she told Miranda. “It’s kind of gross, but then it’s over.”
Although my mom’s generation routinely took field trips to the Union Stockyards, today there’s little agreement on when it’s OK to let a child see the origins of her meat.
“You can’t do that to city kids,” my brother admonished. “They’re not used to it. It could really disturb them.” Numerous city friends echoed his views.
But when I mentioned those concerns to farmers at the event, they just shook their heads. “Where do city kids think their meat comes from?” one asked. “This is why people are so disconnected from their food.”
In Snyder’s kitchen, I chatted with Thomas Praire, a Frenchman who is interning on a Midwestern farm this summer. “I am 22, and I am not ready to see this,” he said in a thick Gallic accent. “It is horrible.”
“But if it’s that horrible to you, should you eat meat and cause it to happen?” I asked. “Shouldn’t you see and decide?”
Park Grill chef Bernie Laskowski was quietly cutting vegetables nearby and offered, “I don’t think everyone should see it. I just think they need to have respect for the meat and understand the sacrifice it entails.”
Laskowski also brought his kids. Older than the rest, they were by far the most philosophical of the bunch.
“I think it’s sad,” 12-year-old Sebastian said as we sat on hay bales watching the adults corral one of the Berkshire pigs from the field. “But we can’t have meat if we don’t do this. And at least he gets to live outside instead of a factory.” Indeed, only a tiny fraction of U.S. hogs are afforded outdoor lives and humane slaughter.
Still, 11-year-old Gabby spoke for many of us when she stared at the designated black pig and announced, “I wish bacon didn’t taste so good.”
Seven-year-old Kent was torn between his deep empathy for the pig “who didn’t do anything to anyone” and his fascination with its disassembled parts.
All of these kids were cool cucumbers compared with Miranda, who sat nervously on my lap squeezing my hand and asking: “So first they’ll shoot him in the head, right?”
“Right,” I said, just as a shot rang from the knock bolt and pierced the pig’s skull. The body continued to twitch as Sam Clark, the butcher, carried it over to a pit and sliced its neck, releasing a flood of red.
Miranda covered her eyes. One of the children gasped, “Oh my God.”
As the animal was bled, skinned and eviscerated before us, the children watched closely — all except Miranda, who wept into her hands, stole quick glances and turned her gaze to a group of concerned donkeys nearby.
When she finally returned her full gaze, she saw Clark lifting the carcass off the cradle as a last gush of blood fell to the ground. He headed for the cooler.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and the kids ran off to resume their play, especially with the piglets.
Later they would talk about their sadness over the event, but also a new appreciation for the animals.
Like most meat eaters (including this one), they remain a bit conflicted — more conscious but not vegetarian.
Miranda was shocked by all the blood but said it’s “important for kids to understand that meat doesn’t grow from the ground or from holes at the store.”
So would she do it again? “No way,” she said. “But I think Joe should.”