"Did someone kill that chicken?" asked my eight-year-old as she witnessed me wrestling a headless and certified organic chicken into the roasting pan - an experience I find unsavoury at the best of times.
It requires me getting closer to the source of my food than I'm really comfortable with. Roast chicken? Delicious. Having to acknowledge we're eating dead animals? Kind of gruesome.
I recently spent twelve months as a pescetarian (and wrote about it for Canvas in an article entitled Something fishy about that diet) partly so I wouldn't have to discuss the politics of slaughtering barnyard creatures to meet our dietary requirements with my animal-mad child.
Earlier this year I interviewed a vegan for a Canvas story called Bite club: What's eating you? I totally empathised when he said: "I don't want people killing other sentient beings or significantly altering their lives to give me food or make my life a bit tastier."
I admit I'm uncomfortable about the exploitation of animals but I must be too lazy and hypocritical to do much about it. I obviously lack commitment to the cause.
A blood-test revealed my daughter is slightly low in iron. I blame my flirtation with pescetarianism which meant my family were dished up mainly vegetarian food, sometimes accompanied by fish or other seafood. We still don't eat much meat but when we do I encourage my daughter to eat up to boost those iron levels.
Last week while eating spaghetti bolognaise she asked what mince is made of. "Meat," I replied. She was happy enough with that. There was no need to get into the actual provenance and talk about cows surely. A few years ago someone asked how her lamb was while she was enjoying her dinner. Her eyes widened and she looked at me horrified, waiting for an explanation. "It's not lamb," I lied. "It's just meat." Problem averted.
Yes the truth is dispensable in such situations. Little girls are finicky enough at meal-times; they're certainly not getting my encouragement to boycott another type of food.
So the chicken question threw me a bit. She'd never seen me put one in the oven before and she could probably tell from my body language that I found it kind of gross. Plus, as luck would have it, she was fresh off the boat from a school trip to Tiritiri Matangi Island wildlife sanctuary.
She'd been raving about the birdlife and how the girls had been told stories about some of the creatures there - such as Greg, the takahe, whose wife had evidently left him for a younger bird. Today of all days was not the time to confess that we wantonly murder other birdlife, presumably members of Greg's extended family, on a massive scale. So I lied again.
When my daughter asked "Did someone kill that chicken?" I replied: "Oh no, actually it killed itself."
"Really?" she asked.
Desperate to divert the discussion away from the subject of suicide to which I'd inadvertently alluded, I said, "Well actually, if they're bred for eating, ah, they just all die at a certain age."
Weirdly I'd created some mythical Logan's Run-style world for chickens in which they conveniently expired on a particular date. It wasn't my finest moment but at least we all enjoyed our dinner that Friday evening.
I made a mental note to somehow correct this belief before she returned to school on Monday and shared this fanciful notion with a classmate. It would probably require some other lie to be told. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.
But I honestly don't know how to explain something to an eight-year-old that I can't even explain to myself. And it all goes to reinforce my idea that aspiring parents really ought to have to sit aptitude tests first so people as ill-equipped for parenthood as I am can't mess with young children's minds.
- NZ HERALD ONLINE