Meat processing may not be the oldest activity in creation, but it’s close!
When we began raising rabbits it was to provide an organic meat source for our family. We did a lot of research and discovered rabbit meat is one of the healthiest meats around, rabbits are easy to raise and relatively inexpensive, and they are quiet, making them an ideal choice for our vaguely-urban neighborhood.
Even though it was a logical choice for us, the reality of having children is that what makes sense to an adult is not always sensible to a young one! Many people have asked us how our children react to knowing we’re having rabbit for dinner so this seems like a good place to address their questions.
Our major philosophy with butchering (and life!) is to be honest with our kids, answer any questions they have, invite them to participate as much as they would like (but never force them!), and to share our reasoning and the struggles we have with the process.
Make no mistake, taking life in any form is significant to us and not something we do lightly. I’m been known to apologize to an apple tree for picking an apple! (Yep, I know this is strange but it’s how I roll!) Knowing we have a reasoning and thought process behind it makes a huge difference for us.
I’ve found this article (Kids and Farming: How To Tell Your Children Which Animal Is For Dinner) has some great tips on preparing your children for livestock processing. They do a good job of giving pointers on how to work with your children through what some might consider a disturbing event.
Our children have had lots of question but in general are really unconcerned about eating animals we’ve raised. When I announce we’re having rabbit enchurittos for dinner, rejoicing is heard throughout the land! Ha!
Every child is different and each family needs to find their own comfort level, but here are a few things that have worked for our children as we discuss raising rabbits as livestock rather than pets:
1. Every rabbit has a purpose. We watched a movie called Hugo a while ago and I fell in love with the main premise behind the film: that everything is created to fulfill a purpose and bringing that purpose to fruition is a thing of beauty! On a basic, biological level, rabbits were created as food for others. This is why they reproduce so quickly, have such short gestation periods, and are relatively unintelligent, small, and nutritious. Though they can fulfill multiple purposes, perhaps as a breeding animal for stunning show stock or as a companion for a human, at their basic level they are prey. Allowing them to complete their function is a thing of beauty in the same way humans can fill different roles, perhaps as a mother, or lawyer, doctor, or garbage collector. Every thing has a role to play!
2. Rabbits are an object lesson. We encourage our children to a part of the harvesting process much as they would like. While processing we use our rabbits as hands-on learning; we take care to identify the different elements of anatomy, recognize what healthy animals look like or what we might see if an animal were sick; we talk with our kids about the food we feed the rabbits and why protein content in a pellet matters, about how access to hay enhances a rabbit’s life, and what methods of taking life are honorable, fast, and painless. There are so very many subjects that come up from an educational standpoint if you talk honestly with your kids about your motives and how every piece of this life puzzle fits together, plus this provides a fall back plan for them in the event of a major lifestyle change. Has anyone seen Hunger Games?!
3. Our meat shouldn’t come on a styrofoam container. While grocery stores are convenient and I visit one (or two!) on a weekly basis, we want our children to understand that milk doesn’t come in plastic jugs and meat isn’t naturally served up on a styrofoam container. Most people in the U.S. are one-to-two generations removed from a food-producing farm and we’ve forgotten that we are dependent upon nature and hard work to provide the food we need to survive. As parents, we talk with our children about farming and our commitment to providing for our own needs in as wholesome and healthy way as we have available.
4. We adopt an attitude of gratitude. We have willingly entered into a symbiotic relationship with our livestock. It is our responsibility to care for the rabbits in the best way we know how and we take our stewardship very seriously. We always talk with our children about how thankful we are that these rabbits are able to meet one of our foundational needs — to eat — and do not take the responsibility we have to the animals lightly.
5. Practical Anonymity. When it’s all said and done, no matter how much you talk to someone about the big picture and philosophy behind raising your own food, no one wants to know it’s Mr. Binkles on the dinner plate! From a practical standpoint, we won’t name rabbits unless we intend to keep them for a good while and we typically process and freeze the meat under the generic “rabbit” term for long enough that we can’t remember who was whom!
While this is a far from exhaustive list, I hope it provides a spring board for your own discussions with kiddos about livestock and food and our roles as consumers in this world.