Talking to children about farm animal fate.

People often ask me how our kids feel on the sad days when our animals depart and don’t return home. Do they protest? Do they cry? Do we debate eating meat, or imagine farm heaven? No — cue the Lion King soundtrack. Whether dealt by the claws and jaws of predators or the blades of a slaughterhouse, death is a common occurrence here. But that doesn’t make it easier for kids to bear, or for me to explain. We may not be a religious family, but we are spiritual. On Sundays we choose hikes in the woods over church. Even so, I often find myself at a loss for words when my kids demand answers for life after death.

“All we know is the present, honey,” I tell them. “These animals had the best, happiest lives we could give them. They had a job to do here and they did it well. Now it’s their turn to help someone else live a happy life too.” I worry sometimes that my approach is too utilitarian. If these animals exist to work, should we give the tractor a name too? We certainly don’t feel the same affinity for our farm equipment. In my haste to explain away death, perhaps I’ve failed to speak to the truth of the matter: We love these animals, but we eat them too. That reality is tough to reconcile, especially when it manifests at the dinner table.

My kids have accepted my superficial explanations for now. Still, sometimes late at night, between story time and sleep, we reminisce about our departed furry friends, gone but not forgotten; we remember ‘ol Max, snorting around his scratching post, and cry — just a little — imagining him still here.