Do you remember when you were a kid and thought Santa Claus was real? In fact, most of us did more than just think he was real, we believed it. Why? Likely because our parents and other adults in our lives told us so each year at Christmas. Our belief in this magical tale was further bolstered with such stories and annual TV specials like, The Night Before Christmas or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
And do you remember when you found out it was bullshit? Hopefully when you did you were of an age that was old enough not to be insulted nor completely devastated by it either. I found out when I was nine or ten and it was by accident. I used to love going through my mom’s jewellery box as a kid, usually while she was getting ready to go out. I would try on her rings and bracelets and she would tell me the history of some pieces. One day I opened a tiny box I’d always wondered about and found a bunch of teeth in there. For some reason – I don’t know why – I thought they belonged to my Nana who had recently passed away. When I asked about them, it was then that my mother looked sheepishly at me and told me they were mine.
She paused. So did I. Then I asked her,
“But doesn’t the tooth fairy have my teeth?” To which my mom waited another beat before telling me that, actually, no. The tooth fairy isn’t real, sweetie.
Oh. Okay. This wasn’t too bad since the tooth fairy only netted me a quarter now and then. But then the proverbial penny dropped:
“What about Santa Claus?” I asked.
My mom shook her head. “Sorry, sweetie. He’s not real either. Or the Easter Bunny.”
“Oh,” I said, staring down at the tiny box that I now understood carried my baby teeth. “Okay.”
“Are you alright?” my mom asked.
“Yeah. It’s okay.” And that was that.
But wasn’t it a nice thought? I mean really – who wouldn’t want to believe in Santa Claus? Who wouldn’t want to believe that a jolly, happy man can travel around the globe in one night giving presents to all the children? Who wouldn’t want to believe that this kind man who lived at the North Pole and whom you would never see in person – no matter how hard you tried to stay awake for a glimpse of him – spent all year crafting toys for you, reading your letters and even stopping to eat the snack you laid out for him on Christmas Eve? It’s a lovely thought. But when we found out the truth, we adjusted our thinking accordingly, grew up a little bit and moved on. Besides, by the time most of us find out about Santa Claus, we’ve likely already wondered to ourselves the logistics of world travel in one night and a fat guy fitting down a chimney.
I got to thinking about this as I was looking for a gift recently for a toddler. I was in the children’s section of a bookstore looking through those little board books they can chew on and throw across room with little damage (to the book anyway). So many of the books I picked up centered around animals. That’s one of the first things we learn along with counting and the alphabet, isn’t it? We learn to identify farm animals and the different sounds they make. Most of these books had illustrations of cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens, all shown grazing on lush pastures in beautiful weather, sometimes with a homely looking farmer in overalls nearby. But unlike the truth about Santa Claus, most of us never outgrow the myths around what life is actually like for most farm animals today. Just like the story books and Christmas specials that perpetuated our belief in Saint Nick, so too do the egg cartons, milk jugs and meat labels preserve this fantasy, showing animals in those same idyllic pastures and acres of green and lush fields; some brands even going as far to suggest that these animals are happy with their very name.
Like Santa Claus, I too would like to believe that this were so. I would love to cling to my long-held belief that animals on “farms” today are given all the freedom, care, and consideration that companies and marketing firms would have us believe. I would love to believe that there is such a thing as “humane slaughter”. But it is just not true. Yes, there are still a few small farms that remain, with actual farmers that practice proper animal husbandry and maybe even still hand milk the cows. Maybe they even kill the animals themselves in the quickest, least painful way. But there are very, very few of those left and that is just not the case for the billions of animals killed worldwide every year for our food. I can assure you this without a doubt: if you are eating meat and dairy today and you purchase most of these items from a major retailer, even if it’s organic, you are eating unimaginable suffering.
You are ingesting the bodies of animals who have been kept in windowless sheds, standing in their own filth and excrement, crowded together in the thousands, sometimes in the tens of thousands. Everything from the air to the temperature to the lights to their feed are run by machines and the only human contact they have is when their dead carcasses are removed from the area because they didn’t make it or when they are plucked by their feet or herded with electric prods onto the truck that takes them to their final deaths. These animals have never known a kind touch from a human, they’ve never known their offspring. If you’re a hen, all of your eggs and chicks are taken for either human consumption or further use. A cow’s baby is taken to become either veal if he’s a male or a dairy cow if she’s female. A sow’s piglets are also taken from her to be fattened and slaughtered or to endure the same cycle of impregnation and confinement. And no matter what animal you are – cow, rabbit, sheep, goat, chicken – once you stop producing anything of monetary value or you reach “market weight”, you are killed in what has to be one of the most terrifying methods humans have ever come up with to inflict death upon a fellow creature with whom we share this planet: the slaughterhouse.
I ask this of you, just as I once asked this of myself: why do we continue to believe this myth about how the animals we eat are treated? Why do we continue to make excuses for this belief that has little to no basis in reality? Why is considering the pain and suffering of animals scoffed at in the same way we would scoff at anyone over the age of 16 who claims to still believe in Santa Claus? Animal suffering is real. Santa Claus is not. Believing either one to be untrue will not make it so. And isn’t there already that little voice inside your head, just as there was with Santa Claus, that maybe it’s just a little too good to be true? That the belief and the reality about animal treatment just don’t add up?
I’m not one for Bible quotes, especially after my upbringing in the church and the damage some Scriptures have caused. But I’m with the Apostle Paul on this one:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I was grown, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.
It is time to put away childish beliefs, adjust our thinking, and grow up. We need to move on to creating a world with less violence and bloodshed and one immediate way to do that is to remove it from our plates. It is time to look at how we really treat animals. To move from the myth, this vague notion we carry, to seeing it face to face.