The Most Pervasive Form of Child Abuse
Rev. Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
I believe the most widespread form of child abuse in our culture today is forcing children to eat the flesh, milk, and eggs of birds, fish, and other mammals. I myself was wounded in this way throughout my entire childhood by well meaning but abusive parents, neighbors, and teachers who had been similarly abused as children. The effects of this abuse are insidious and devastating.
The most immediate effect is the hardening of one’s heart toward the suffering of others. Several times daily a ritual is enacted in which conscious, feeling creatures who are subjects of their own lives and life experiences, who have fully-developed central nervous systems as humans do, and who are sensitive to pain and to psychological suffering, are rendered into objects with no value other than “food.” The child is routinely forced to participate in and eventually perhaps even enjoy events that mask a deep horror and crudely veiled violence.
By blithely cooking and presenting the bodies and body parts of animals as meals that are normal and respectable, elders create in children a deep wound from which few, it seems, ever recover. This wound is an inner splitting off of oneself from one’s actions and natural human feelings. It causes a fundamental inability to either be fully responsible for one’s actions, or to open to the suffering of others, especially the suffering that one is directly causing. A profound inner alienation from nature, from other living creatures, from other humans, and from oneself is the unavoidable result. While this alienation is desperately denied and hidden, it is obvious to anyone with a discerning eye who sees how we treat our ecosystem, other animals, and those we see as “others”—other ethnic groups and those of other religions, races, and orientations. It is the vulnerable who are especially hurt by this: women, children, the poor and underprivileged, animals, and future generations.
There is great truth in the old saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” Even more truthful would be the saying, “Hurt people hurt animals.” And in harming them, and teaching our children that it is natural to do so, we damage the fundamental nature of our relationship with the created world. We tear the fabric of caring, intuition, freedom, and honor, and become incapable of true respect. In violating those who are weaker, imprisoning, mutilating, abusing and butchering them, and forcing sensitive young children to accept and participate in this behavior, we do fundamental violence to them and to ourselves and our true nature.
It is obvious that humans are not intended to eat other animals. Truly carnivorous animals need not use implements like knives, spears, guns, and fishing tackle to catch and kill and prepare other animals to be eaten, nor to cook and disguise the truly horrific nature of the action. What supposedly meat-loving man would chase a wild cow or pig, leap upon its neck and kill it with his teeth and fingernails, chomping into the hot blood and living flesh of another creature? Not only is it impossible, it is completely disgusting to us as humans and alien to our nature. Similarly, to crawl under the cow and suck on her teats, stealing her baby’s milk, and her baby as well. The actions we take to be normal are utterly outrageous, and in forcing our children to engage in such perversions, we perpetuate the violence, warfare, and hard-heartedness that cause so much suffering in our world.
Noticing one’s own jaw, one immediately recognizes how it is especially hinged to allow side-to-side movement. No carnivorous or omnivorous animals have this type of jaw. We have the anatomy of herbivores, for chewing, digesting, and eliminating grains and plant-based foods. It is well established that if herbivores are forced to eat other animals, they develop the same disease conditions that are pandemic today in our culture: obesity, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, cancers, arthritis, kidney, liver, and digestive ailments, strokes, chronic degenerative diseases, as well as depression and aggressive behavior. Most people, unfortunately, are so deeply wounded as children that they are never able to undo the tragic damage done to them, and fail to switch to the non-violent plant-based diet for which all humans are perfectly designed.
A parent who eats animal foods is thus chronically abusive, and in the worst way: a way that is completely socially acceptable. The child abuse of being a model flesh-eater, whom the impressionable child will naturally emulate, inflicts misery, illness, violence, bondage, and shortened life both on the animals who are killed, and on the child who accepts it all, ironically, as normal. We have all been given the gift of physical bodies that require no animal to suffer for their feeding. To reject this gift from a deeply loving universal intelligence, and uselessly confine, maim, slaughter, and eat animals, and force our children to do so as well, through the proxy of buying or demanding blood, flesh, milk, and eggs, sows the seeds of generations of misery. The greatest delight is in feeling, connecting, awakening, caring, and loving, and it begins with the daily ritual that we all participate in, our most intimate connection with the created world, that we call eating.
Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.