Five-Day Camp-out on Four-Days of Food — And a Live Chicken
The title describes a lesson at Hong Kong International School, where I taught many years ago. The description of this optional outdoor education unit for our middle school students made it clear that the culminating activity would be the killing, dressing, cooking and eating of a chicken for the last day’s dinner. There would be no other food available for that day.
After four days of providing chicken feed to their last meal, the kids were given a cleaver and their live chicken . No kid was forced to kill the animal. Some chose to go hungry that day.
Among the “objectives” of the lesson: “don’t expect someone to do something for you that you are not willing to do for yourself” and “there is a connection between the plastic-wrapped, sanitized piece of meat in the supermarket and a living animal.”
Our grandparents knew where their meat came from. They knew what “butcher knives” were used for. But every year, our next generation of youngsters has less-and-less exposure to the realities of what happens at a packing house. It is time for the educational system and the meat processors to get back into reality education.
Unfortunately today, attorneys in the distant offices of various meat-packing headquarters are making it very difficult for Kansas biology teachers to do the most elementary of dissection lessons. Nothing generates more awe and respect for the complex structures in an eye than the careful dissection and examination of a cow eyeball. Yet several major packing companies have closed off our long-standing access to cow eyeballs on the grounds that nervous tissue might carry mad-cow disease. It is a non-existent problem—there are no “mad cow” prions in today’s cattle herds in the United States.
Any teacher who wants to take students on a tour of a Kansas packing plant is out-of-luck as our industries hide their processes behind closed doors. This secrecy gives animal-rightists a big advantage.
Part of this week’s Kansas State Fair is a competition among our 4-H kids who show livestock and sign “intent to sell” forms—they know where their food comes from. But our city kids often haven’t a clue really how their hamburger or chicken gets into their favorite sandwich. As rural populations shrink, we cannot afford to see this imbalance between the aware and the ignorant grow.
Temple Grandin, the Colorado State University professor of animal science who has designed livestock handling facilities used by meat processing plants, agrees. Speaking at the Animal Science Conference and Venture Forum at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minnesota on September 5, she explained: “We’ve got to show what we do. We’ve got to get over being bashful.”
As reported in the West Central Tribune in Willmar, “Grandin urged the industry professionals at the conference to ‘show stuff done right’ and to ‘put up tons and tons of videos’ showing the entire process....” Far from driving students away, she contends that this understanding will encourage many young people to consider agricultural technology as a career.
We do not need to look out-of-state to see examples of students who entered nursing and medicine because of their experiences with meat processing. In an earlier interview, one-time Governor candidate and prior Kansas Senator Jim Barnett explained to the Emporia Gazette that his interest in medicine began from his examining the entrails of a chicken his mother had prepared on the farm for dinner.
The current educational oppression of No Child Left Behind testing has prevented teachers taking any field trips, let alone trips to cattle lots and packing plants. But middle school is the age that my Hong Kong school and Temple Grandin recognize is the time for this reality check with highly interesting lessons.
Kansas schools need to introduce our agriculture, ag-technology businesses, and related careers to students in middle school. We need the participation of our local industries and they need to be fully open about what they do. Over time it will take the impact away from animal rightist sensationalism.
At last week’s conference, Grandin summarized it clearly: “If you don’t show kids interesting stuff, they won’t get interested in interesting stuff.”
John Richard Schrock is a Board member of the National Animal Interest Alliance and trains Kansas biology teachers at Emporia State University. This column represents his personal views only.