Working at Green Chimneys is full of paradoxes. One of the biggest ones that I don’t understand is the rationale behind the rule that staff are not allowed to discuss the entire life cycle of animals, particularly when they die. On a farm, life and death is common. Animals get sick and die, chickens that lose the ability to lay eggs productively become tomorrow’s dinner, cows and pigs once they reach a certain age or weight are taken off to slaughter.
But such realities are not to be reflected in our teachings. I once made the mistake in discussing with a GC staff member a scene in the Michael Moore movie, “Roger & Me,” where a poor resident of Flint, MI, was selling rabbits for “Pets or Meat.” A child nearby overheard our discussion and went into a massive crying fit. We eventually calmed down the child and I felt guilty about upsetting the boy. While many of the animals we have at Green Chimneys are viewed as pets and part of therapy, the other more final use is the true reason for the existence of most farms.
After some reflection, I started to feel sorry for all the children as they were being shielded from the reality of the human use of animals for food. After all its not tofu nuggets, mushroom burgers and veggyloaf that gets fed to the children in the cafeteria. And everyone loves cheese. Green Chimneys is far from a meat-free zone. Often, the more meat, the better.
The absurdity of this was revisited last week as I was having lunch with some colleagues. “”We don’t have room for all of them in the barn,” said one farm worker.
“I’m not sure what we will do with the carcass,” said another.
I quickly discovered that something killed one of the sheep the prior evening. There were no visible footprints or scat but the consensus was either a large dog or coyote of which there are many in the area, killed the sheep. Now that this predator knows that there are easy pickings, we needed to protect the flock. So instead of leaving them out in the fields, they will be brought in every evening to be protected.
“So how did the kids take it?” I asked. I was given a sharp look and told that the children never will know.
“We tell them that it [the sheep] went home to a farm in New Jersey,” said one of the farm hands. “That’s our standard line.”
“But the kids are getting smart,” said another. “They have figured out that anytime someone ‘goes home to New Jersey’ it means that they have died.”
This was really weird. Images of Jimmy Hoffa next to some dead ungulates sprang to mind. “OK horsey, if you won’t talk, it’s a concrete feed bag for you.”
But the biggest missed opportunity was our inability to create a positive and impactful lesson from this nasty event. Instead we are having to hide everything.
As I left the cafeteria, I started to think of Charlton Heston and Edger G. Robinson in the movie “Soylent Green.” It’s a old science-fiction movie about a 2022 Earth that is overpopulated and barely able to feed itself. Soylent Green is one of the main food stuffs of the era and purportedly is made from plankton. Robinson, tired of life leaves a note for Heston stating that he is “going home,” a euphemism for assisted suicide. Heston follows the body of his old friend through a processing sequence discovering the dark secret that “Soylent Green is people!”
I felt like following that train of thought by screaming, “Mutton is sheep!.” But I didn’t and went back to the garden less worried about the mixed message we send out to our children and more worried about covering up some tender vegetable seedlings as we were expecting a very cold evening.