Imagine the classic farm scene—Daisy the cow and her friends playing in the fields all day, behind them are rolling, lush fields; the rosy-cheeked farmer smiles. Children’s books labour this farm myth: romanticised and sanitised, ultimately the farms in children’s books would be better described as animal sanctuaries. Once you notice the particular way farms are drawn time and again, it can be seen everywhere—the farm myth image is commandeered by companies in advertising and packaging to reassure us of supposedly high welfare standards.
We know, if we think about it, that real farms aren’t like this—I’m sure all of us have seen enough videos on Facebook, or perhaps you’ve watched Earthlings on YouTube—to know that modern animal farming is cruel and violent. But the farm myth is deeply ingrained—certainly to continue eating meat, it is easier to imagine this myth rather than the reality of where animal products come from. But if farms were truly modelled on the myth in children’s books, we would have no meat, dairy or eggs: for the animal characters in these stories are never hurt or killed. The cruel processes which we see in factory farms—for example the grinding alive of male chicks for eggs and imprisonment of animals from birth to death—are outrageously cruel. Produce from small farms is not necessarily a better option because many painful processes are industry standard—calves are taken from mothers when they are very young so that we can steal their milk; piglets are often castrated with no anaesthetic; and all animals die in fear and pain, most of them still babies, covered in their own excrement in the hellholes which we call abattoirs.
There has never been a children’s book about a slaughterhouse. Of course, this unbelievable death and suffering could never be appropriate material for children: even books which show children the truth in a gentle and age appropriate way have been criticised as “extreme”. But it is nonsensical that, instead of objecting to the meat-eating system we know children would be traumatised to even know about, we object to books which point out this institutionalised cruelty and violence. It is also nonsensical—not to mention a complete disrespect to their right to the truth—to deny children the knowledge of where meat comes from, and instead present them with these fictionalised representations. I believe many people go through their entire lives unable to shake the farm myth from their minds. People often say that they’re ok with eating meat ‘as long as the animals had a nice life’: unfortunately, the truth is that animals will always be abused and exploited as long as we view them as ours to farm, eat, and control. We must open our eyes to the reality of animals’ miserable lives and stop living in this farm myth.