Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The One Where Anna Goes to a Zoo

Anna's class took a field trip to the Minnesota Zoo today.

We don't go to zoos, since we believe that animals have the right to live free from ownership and exploitation (if you want to read more of me moralizing and condemning zoos, read my post, One More Dead Wolf).

We told Anna that she could make her own decision of whether or not to go on this field trip. She chose to go. And honestly, I would be a bit concerned if she chose to stay home. She's a social kid and she wants to be with her friends and classmates. She knows that simply going to the zoo on a free field trip (at least free to her and us, since we didn't have to pay anything for it) isn't going to make those animals' lives any harder. And yeah, I'm rationalizing letting her go. But the way I see it, it wasn't my decision. It was hers and I respect her right to make it. (Letting go is a long process that starts with baby steps like this, right?)

Also, she was really excited to see penguins.


I can't help but sigh. Don't get me wrong, I would be excited to see penguins too! I totally get it. But I also get why zoos are sad, sad places and I want nothing to do with them.

I gave Anna a basic rundown of why zoos are sad, sad places. I didn't do this to make her feel guilty for wanting to go (she didn't) but to clue her in on things to look for and think about while she's there. My hope was that she wouldn't uncritically accept the notion that animals in a zoo are as happy if not happier than they would be in their natural habitat.

"They try to make it like their natural habitat," she said, repeating something she heard from her teacher. I asked her to think of how big the savannah is. Now think of how big a lion's cage in a zoo is. They recreate just an itty bitty tiny slice of their natural habitat, if that. Lions move from place to place. They run distances zoos are unable to accomodate. They hunt.

"I know, but I still want to go and see different animals."

Fair enough.

Last night, we read some of her Wild Animal Atlas book, and there was some info in there about emperor penguins in Antarctica. They can dive to depths of over a thousand feet. "The amount of water they have for penguins in a zoo," I couldn't help but adding, "would be like us going to a water park and there being just a small bath tub to sit in."

When Anna came home from school today, I asked how the zoo was. "I saw penguins!"

"What kind of penguins were they," I asked.

"I don't remember. I think they were the kind that build their nests out of rocks?"

"How much water did they have?" I asked.

"It was a pool. And it looked like there was an ocean in the back, but it was a painting."

"Like in Happy Feet? Remember when Mumble runs into the wall painting and then dives into the water and runs into the glass because the pool is so small?"

Yeah. She remembered.

Again, I didn't say this stuff to make her feel bad about going to the zoo. I said it so that she would know why I think zoos are sad, sad places. She gets this. She's also able to completely separate it from the fact that she actually got to see Real. Live. Penguins. That's understandable, I think.

I asked what other kinds of animals she saw. Some turtles and some bat rays, she said. She couldn't really tell me anything about the animals other than that she saw them. Nobody told her anything about the animals, according to her. She didn't read anything about them either. So, all in all, not really an educational trip to the zoo, which is one of those things zoos are always bragging about -- education.

After looking at some animals, they took a break for lunch. I had to pack a lunch for Anna because she was told in advance that there wouldn't be a sufficient amount of vegan food there for her. I asked what the other kids ate.

Hotdogs, she said. They ate hotdogs.

So much for having the animals' best interests in mind, huh zoos? Not only are hotdogs made from the flesh (among other parts) of tortured animals, but they're also a product of the meat industry, which is, according to the UN, “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems." Problems, by the way, which negatively effect the natural habitats of members of the same species who you keep caged at the zoo because you claim to care about ... wait for it ... the survival of their species!

But fuck that, right zoos? Who the hell is going to come appreciate the wonder and beauty of imprisoned nature if they can't dine on the flesh of animals while they do it?


Anyway, Anna went to a zoo. So ... thoughts on that? Anyone else out there had to deal with non-vegan field trips? Care to share?


Jacqueline said...

I enjoyed reading this. It's something that all of us veg parents will face at one time or another. I think you took the same approach I would. I would allow my child to go on the field trip, but I would also try to get them to see the zoo from the animal's point of view. But here's the thing - you and I both probably went to zoo's growing up (I know I did) and we turned out to be people fighting for animal rights. So it's okay that she went. Even if all vegan kids always refrained from attending the zoos it isn't going to close them down. Another issue that is odd to me is that we veg parents want our children to respect animals, so they are the ones that rarely get to come in contact with them. Those that eat the animals seem to get to be the kids that get to come in contact with them more. While I'm aware of all the reasons why, it still seems a little backward to me. So I want my kids to be around animals, but have to walk a fine line when it comes to what it is. And honestly having been to both I don't see a lot of differences between "sanctuaries" and zoos (especially considering most sanctuaries allow breeding of the animals, so they will live their lives in captivity). One of the ways I try to draw the line is in avoiding places where the animals are made to entertain us (e.g., Sea World, circuses, etc.). Oh, and the eating of the animals there --- I can relate. I took my kids to a petting zoo farm where kids can see lots of animals (got the tickets free). They loved it and it was nice that they got to see the animals. But they had a snack bar that sold chicken and other flesh products. I found that really disturbing and wrote them to express my thoughts on it (they never responded of course). Anyway, interesting post and I just wanted to respond. :)

Al said...

Thank you for your perspective, Jacqueline. I appreciate it.

Michelle said...

We just dealt with with too. We are in a small homeschool co op and it was decided to do two field trips to our local zoo for our animals unit. We went last week for birds. This was a tough decision for me, since we make it a point to not go to Seaworld, which is literally just down the road. I think Jacqueline has an interesting perspective, and one that I am also trying to work from - our kid loves animals and we do go to a local sanctuary to see farm animals. Going to the zoo allows her to see animals she wouldn't see elsewhere but also allows for a good discussion of how their homes at the zoo are quite inadequate compared to their natural habitat. It's a tough line to walk. I don't think we would have gone had it not been a co op field trip, but I'm glad we did because it has fostered some good discussions.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to have found your blog, because these are the kind of things my husband and I are trying to prepare ourselves for. We do plan on homeschooling, but that does not mean that these sort of obstacles won't present themselves, especially since we know very few other vegan families.

Anonymous said...

I quite enjoyed your post. I haven't really gotten to the "letting go and offering choices" part of my parenting journey yet. I am on the "bribe them with something much better" part. So I have driven across state lines to do overnights at an animal sanctuary where we can play with and pet the animals while the kids in her class are being milled through a zoo and not able to touch anything. We have done trips to waterparks when they announce a announced the kids were going to the aquarium. And I happily plead guilty to offering to throw her teddy bear a birthday party extravaganza when a friend threw her son a birthday party at a petting zoo and I couldn't see letting her go to that.

As she gets older, I might try the choices thing. But I might offer a choice between the awesome adventure Mom is planning and [fill in the blank with non-vegan activity].

We try very hard not to bribe her with material items. But I want her to know that you can have as much fun being vegan and experience the same amount of adventure being vegan and doing vegan activities as you can being non-vegan and going to a zoo.

Ingrid said...

This was a great post- and the comments were wonderful too. It's something I've often wondered about, but have been totally unsure how to navigate. My heart breaks in about a million pieces when I go to the zoo, but I have to raise my glass to what Jacqueline mentioned about having been exposed to the zoo as a child and now being an animal rights activist. Lots to think about....

Al said...

I really appreciate all of your comments. Thanks for taking the time.

Jessica @Vegbooks said...

Oh, my heart goes out to you. I hate zoos too but my kiddo decided to participate in a field trip to one not so long ago. Her reaction was similar to Anna's. So funny too because I decided I hated zoos long before I became a vegan -- it just took staring into the eyes of a primate behind plexiglass. How challenging the journey is for vegan families to live in a world that exploits animals!

Anonymous said...

i LOVE this post! i have had similar discussions with my kids in the past, and have let them make their own decisions as well. may i share this blog post on my facebook?

Al said...

Glad you liked it, Anon. And yes, feel free to share as far and wide as you'd like.