How to Explain Ethical Eating to Your Kids

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There’s no denying that children are inquisitive creatures. They crave knowledge and are constantly constructing their view of the world around them. But with some questions touchier than simply explaining why the sky is blue, it can be difficult to navigate this uncharted territory. No, we’re not talking about the talk, we’re talking about the other talk: where does our food come from?

It was with wide eyes that my seven year old asked me that same question not too long ago, and it took me a long time to conjure an answer that would satisfy her curiosity without traumatising her. With greater transparency of the treatment and slaughter practices on farms, explaining ethical eating to your kids is more important than ever. And, with these tips, it will be easier too! So, before the time comes to explain the circle of life to your little ones, prepare yourself by refreshing your own knowledge of ethical practices.

What Is Ethical Eating?

The key to not turning your children off meat, and further off vegetables, is to explain ethical eating as an alternative to the doom and gloom of knowing that the patty on their burger used to moo. Attempting to contemplate the death of a human is mind boggling enough, so by explaining the processes that make a cow’s journey from paddock-to-plate as humane as possible, your children will be well-informed and hopefully not too distressed.

the best way to explain ethics to your children is: what feels right and what doesn’t.

Easier said than done right? What I found to be the best way to explain this to my child was to introduce her to the concept of ethics. Ethics are relative to each culture and are therefore not strictly objective, so the best way to explain ethics to your children is: what feels right and what doesn’t.

Here, you could pose a question asking whether they think it’s better for cows to have lots of space to graze in fields or whether they should be kept inside with very little space. As a mother I want to protect my children from the harsher realities of the world, but it’s important to equip them with the tools to begin understanding the world around them rather than shield them from it.

In essence, ethical eating is about being aware of what one is consuming and where it came from. So, get educated! The RSPCA website is a great source of knowledge for understanding the current standards of animal treatment and the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme.

What Came First: The Chicken Or The Egg?

There are a few ethical conditions to consider when it comes to eating chickens, but what about egg-laying chickens? Even though the actual chicken isn’t being raised for the slaughter (just like milking cows) is doesn’t mean that ethical practices can be ignored.

Paying an extra dollar or two for cage-free (or free-range) eggs over the caged variety is a no-brainer. Meat products may not be as explicit in their treatment of the animal, but with eggs, it’s explicit. This is a good first step to introducing your children to ethical eating: it’s about making a choice between price/convenience and doing what is right.

An easy tip? Research the ethical practices that each brand implements. Although some brands only just fit into the ethical guidelines, other brands go above-and-beyond to ensure that their produce comes from the happiest and healthiest of farm animals. By reading up on the parameters brands have to maintain to keep their free-range labeling, you quickly realise that the guidelines only cover the bare minimum. So, make an informed choice when picking up your next dozen eggs.

Seasonal Fruit

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Ethical eating is not just about the life and death of farm animals, it also concerns the way we interact with the practices surrounding food storage and preservation. Once I explained to my child the ethics involved eating animal products, she paused, glanced at the strawberries on her plate, and politely asked “Do strawberries need lot’s of space in a field too?”

Eating ethical fruit is not about locating strictly organic produce, it is about knowing what is in season and what isn’t. The issue with consuming seasonal fruit out of season is the way they are coming to be in the supermarkets. Fruit, such as apples, are stored in heavy-weight freezers or are shipped from other countries when they are no longer in season. The unnecessary energy expenditure is what makes this practice unethical.

The best way to explain it to your child is to lead by example.

The best way to explain it to your child is to lead by example. Watermelon, oranges, blueberries and my daughter’s beloved strawberries are in season during summer, which as I explained to her, means that’s when it’s responsible to eat them. On the other hand, we have to wait until winter to eat yummy mandarins and grapefruit to be responsible fruit eaters.

I’ve mentioned the word responsible a few times for a reason. Children learn to take responsibility from an early age. Whether it be putting away their toys before bedtime or knowing that lying is wrong, responsibility shouldn’t be a foreign concept to them.

Food Wastage

Awareness of manufacturing processes are just important as knowing how an animal is caught or slaughtered. Knowing how much energy goes into the production of family-favourite fish fingers, for instance, leaves you almost heartbroken when you see one of those fish fingers thrown into the garbage. If you haven’t already seen the poignant short film about food waste it’s well worth your time.

Keep Your Children Involved

The best way to teach your kids how to eat ethically is to let them not only make decisions about what to eat, but also know the consequences if they don’t eat what they’ve chosen. Even if your child decides to become a vegetarian, they are still not exempt from having to eat ethically.

So, how can you keep your children involved? Before delving into what’s right or wrong, I checked my facts. The RSPCA’s Shop Humane site is a great resource to see where you can buy RSPCA-approved products and let them read about the products you are going to buy. Once they’ve given their tick of approval, it’s off to the shops! I even made a game out of it when I took my daughter shopping. Strolling down the aisles I’d ask her what were the responsible foods to eat, and I was astounded as to how quickly she had taken to the idea.

Every parent will have their own approach to introducing their kids to ethical eating. Go at your own pace, and your child will grow with that knowledge to begin making responsible and ethical decisions.


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#Content in this article has been by contributed by Guest Blogger, Gwen Mackey. Please apply credit if referencing this article.


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