Raising kids to be ethical eaters without judgment

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But she doesn’t always wait for questions to crop up.

“Occasionally we buy poultry and I might mention I’m choosing a particular brand of chicken because I know the living conditions are better,” she says.

Raising kids to be consumers who’ll consider animal welfare starts with helping them develop compassion says Sally Meakin, Education and Learning Manager for RSPCA Victoria which introduces schoolchildren to rescued sheep, cattle, goats and horses at their education barn in East Burwood.

“It’s not about being vegetarian but to start a conversation about where food comes from and about animal welfare, and to connect with the kind of animals that become livestock.

“We often see animals in flocks but when kids see that cows can be playful and run around, they’re more likely to see them as individuals that play or feel pain. It may influence their shopping and eating choices in the future.”

The barn has a human-sized battery cage that mimics the conditions in which caged hens produce eggs.

“If kids want to try standing inside, it shows what it’s like to spend all day standing on a wire floor unable to stretch your arms out. It has a lot of impact,” Meakin says. “We don’t judge though. We know some people are doing it tough so we’re not saying everyone should pay extra for cage-free eggs. But one boy said, ‘I’m not going to drink Coke any more so Mum can afford free range eggs’.”

Create a judgment-free zone for your kids to ask questions.

Create a judgment-free zone for your kids to ask questions. Credit:iStock

Animal welfare organisations are also helping educate the next generation of consumers by developing school resources to prompt children to think about animals’ needs.

If pigs are as intelligent as dogs, should they have the same protection? That’s the question on one of a range of resources for high schools from Voiceless, the animal protection institute, to encourage critical thinking about animal protection. Then there’s RSPCA Australia’s Cheeky Chooks , a free computer game for eight to 13 year-olds that helps kids understand hen welfare by letting them build their own farm.

But although conversations about where food comes from are important, helping kids cultivate empathy for animals is what really matters, stresses Meakin.

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“Reading them stories about animals helps, but a meaningful connection between a child and an animal can be profound. Not every child will feel a connection – a lot depends on your culture and how you see the world but change can occur. It’s like throwing a handful of seeds into the garden – some won’t take but some will flourish.”

*Although visits to the farm are temporarily suspended because of Victoria’s lockdown, the RSPCA is developing a way to run them virtually.

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