Researchers at the University of Adelaide are shedding light on the different ways people talk to their children about meat production, and what that means for family values and their understanding of agriculture and food.
According to the research, it seems parents like to start having the conversation about where meat comes from while their kids are still pre-schoolers.
The findings are based on a survey of 225 Australian mums and dads whose children eat meat.
“The majority of people who completed our survey had spoken with their children about meat production. These conversations had typically started when the children were aged five or under, usually when preparing or eating meals,” says Dr Heather Bray, Senior Research Associate with the University of Adelaide’s Food Values Research Group.
“Parents feel it is important for children to know where their food comes from. There’s a perception that it’s easier to speak with children about these issues while they’re still young.”
Dr Bray says some differences emerged in the study between the attitudes of men and women. “Women represented 64% of the carers in our study, and they were more likely to agree that children should make a conscious decision about eating meat. Women are generally more understanding if their children want to stop eating meat, and are more likely than men to feel conflicted about eating meat themselves.
“The majority of men believed that children should eat what is served to them without question. They often took the view that ‘food is fuel’ and meat should be eaten as part of a healthy diet,” Dr Bray says.
The study found that people who live in cities are more likely to prefer avoiding conversations about meat production and feel they lack some of the necessary knowledge to talk about it with their children.
“By contrast, families who live in rural areas don’t perceive these conversations as difficult or as ones to be avoided, and many of the children in those families had already been exposed to aspects of animal production,” Dr Bray says.
Study co-author Professor Rachel Ankeny, Leader of the Food Values Research Group at the University of Adelaide, says: “There is an attitude in some areas that conversations about food production ‘belong in schools’, but our findings highlight that the home environment is where children really start to learn about food production, even before school starts.
“Parents and carers talk to children about meat in a way that reflects their own values about meat production. Many of the conversations reflect that ethical treatment and respect for farm animals is important.
“Understanding how the family shapes community values towards meat production helps to provide important knowledge in on issues of food culture and society, and perceptions of farm animal welfare,” she says.