Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Daddy Post - (Mis)Representations of Non Human Animals On Baby Products

What children are taught to believe:


Kenya and I have babies on our minds! As parents-to-be we've been recently exploring the vast world of baby merchandise. It came as no surprise to us to see many representations of non human animals (which I will be referring to simply as “animals” for the rest of this entry) displayed on everything from bedding to clothing to wall paper borders to pacifiers to baby dishes and beyond. The vast majority of the representations are of warm and fuzzy, cuddly and cute animals with joyous expressions on their adorable cartoon faces. Cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, fish, frogs, birds, dogs, cats, bees, dolphins, monkeys, giraffes, zebras, lions, and many more animals are often shown in themes of either free settings; an open pasture, the forest, a jungle, or just “the wild” in general – or in captive settings; farms, zoos, circuses, etc (although the cages are rarely included). In either setting these animals are clearly shown as being happy and comfortable, often with big anthropomorphic smiles to prove it.

Now, as vegans, Kenya and I are quite aware of the realities of animal exploitation that are sanitized and misrepresented on baby products. I'd like to briefly go over a few prominent examples.

On “farms”, for instance, animals are forcefully impregnated and bred in order to be confined and exploited for unnecessary human desires and they are all eventually killed. To not kill them, from a business standpoint, would not be economical, regardless of the size of the operation, from small scale to factory farm. They are all exploited and used in ways that would be considered torture if humans were in their place. Rape (forced impregnation), torture (mutilation, intense confinement, rough handling, etc.), and murder are standard business practices. The animals are all the property under the law (same as a couch or an Ipod – only animals have
interests) and, of course, they are treated accordingly. When they no longer serve a purpose to the “producer”, they become a hindrance to making profits and are ultimately killed at a very early age. Not exactly what was depicted on the burp cloths and in the wooden toy sets that we've seen.

Dairy cow's, for example have to give birth constantly in order to produce milk. Forced impregnation is necessary to the operation and, in many instances, this occurs while the cow is restrained in a contraption referred to as the “rape rack” (this goes for female pigs --sows-- as well). They, as all other mammals, certainly do not produce milk just so humans can steal and consume it. They produce milk, which is “designed” by nature, for their own babies, to feed their calves. When they give birth to a male, he would cost too much money to raise in order to run an efficient operation (too much input, not enough output). So what is done with them? They are torn from the mothers and turned into something economical: veal, the flesh of calves. When dairy cows are “spent”, meaning no longer productive, they are killed just like the male “beef” cows, often ending up in hamburgers.

Egg laying hens are certainly not any better off. Whether the operation is “free range” or “cage free” or your average factory farm setting, the hens' beaks, a very sensitive part of their bodies, are often cut about half way off with a hot blade so that they do not naturally establish a pecking order, peck and/or cannibalize other hens also within close confinement. Egg laying hens are starved and their reproductive cycles are manipulated into laying more eggs, simultaneously with other hens, so that they are productive and efficient so as to compete on the market. Male chicks are an unwanted byproduct of the egg industry. Once hatched, they are simply killed - gassed, suffocated, crushed, electrocuted or ground up alive in large numbers. That way a “producer” can eliminate what would otherwise be uneconomical: the life of male chicks. This reality is much different from the idyllic scenes on the blankets, clothes, and bibs.

As vegans, Kenya and I are also aware that many free or “wild” animals, many represented on baby items, are killed in order to protect ranchers and their “livestock”. The USDA's Wildlife “Services” program kills hundreds of thousands of “wild” animals, using tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, every single year. In 2004, for example, Wildlife “Services” killed 2.7 million “wild” animals such as coyotes, beavers, raccoons, feral pigs, snakes, skunks, squirrels, foxes, deer, prairie dogs, and rats. These animals are shot, poisoned, gassed, snared, and caught in leg hold traps. In addition, millions of birds are killed in order to protect crops, many crops which are primarily used to feed “livestock”. Starlings, pigeons, crows, ravens, sparrows, geese, swans, vultures, and many many more are killed in the thousands and millions annually.

Other “wild” animals that are depicted on baby items are, in reality, shot and killed, or sometimes left injured, just for “sport” and/or tradition.

Zoos and Circuses are also prominent themes appearing on baby items. In pretty much all the zoo themes, the animals are depicted without having any barriers around them, or as if they were in their natural environments. This is very much in contrast to the actual reality of zoos, on and behind the scenes. In reality animals in zoos are often prevented from doing many of the things that are natural and important to them like running, roaming, flying, climbing, foraging, choosing a mate, and being with others of their own kind. This causes them great stress, which is blatantly apparent if one knows what signs to look for. Furthermore, many animals in zoos live only a fraction as long as they would in their natural environments.

Circus scenes on baby items are often the most exciting. Anthropomorphic animals can be seen smiling as they perform various acts, seemingly having the best time of their lives. In reality, animals do not naturally perform “tricks” as they do in circuses. In order to force the animals to perform tricks trainers use whips, tight collars, electric prods, bull hooks, and other painful tools. The scenes behind the scenes at circuses are not so much exciting and fun as they are horrifying.

Knowing these realities behind what is often represented on children's merchandise as “happy”, “playful”, “natural” forms of animal exploitation, I think at least two questions need to be raised:

1) Why do we want our kids to love the animals that we routinely exploit, and brutally harm for no other reason than for our personal pleasure?


2) Why do we lie to our own animal loving children about, and make them unwittingly complicit in the injustices that occur to their beloved friends and companions, the animals?

Having once been an unapologetic omnivore and then a confused vegetarian in denial about the unnecessary harm I was causing for most of my life, I am in a position to expertly answer these questions. We can't be honest with our children about the ways animals are exploited because we ourselves are uncomfortable with it on some level and know our children would not be comfortable with it either. Most of us are aware that other animals, including the ones we regularly exploit are intelligent, sensate individuals with interests in living and continuing their lives free of exploitation.

Many of us are now aware that we don't need to consume animals or their bodily secretions to survive and live healthfully. Therefore, we want or
need to believe in this fantasy that animals bred and raised or captured for unnecessary human purposes live happy, full lives and are treated with love and respect by their exploiters. Otherwise, we would come face to face with the reality that for no justifiable reason we are directly responsible for the many pitiful lives and cruel, brutal deaths of animals that are every bit as alive, conscious, and sentient as we are - that we are the oppressors of our children's lifelong friends. This is why we need to show “happy” representations of animals to our children when those animals are in reality very far from being happy as they are exploited and killed.

This is early indoctrination into a speciesist world, to erroneously teach our children that animals are merely things that are meant to be, and even happy to be, used by us. Never mind that animals have their own lives and their own interests. That would ruin the fantasy... not to mention dinner.


  1. This is also true of children's television. Shows like Sesame Street regularly discuss eggs and milk as healthy foods with no regard for those of us who chose not to use those products for ethical reasons. It's everywhere. It will be interesting when our son is old enough to discuss these things with us.

    Good luck with your journey into parenting. We had a very healthy vegan pregnancy and an extremely healthy vegan son. We are currently living in Texas and we don't know any other vegan families and so few vegetarian ones.

  2. Well, we could as vegans pretend the images to be an ideal or goal...but yeah.

  3. Thanks for your comments.

    Anna, I agree that these misrepresentations are everywhere, especially television. Keeping up with the fantasy, they even very much extend into adulthood. It's a great marketing ploy, eh? In trying to keep the blog entries as short as possible I could only mention a few prominent examples. Thanks for the support and we wish you all the best in TX!

    veganf, I wouldn't want to pretend that the many images of "happy" animal exploitation directed at children are ideal or a goal to aspire to because they still assume that it's ok to exploit animals for human purposes. As vegans we reject the idea that it's acceptable to exploit animals for human purposes whatsoever.

    Stay in touch,


  4. Thank you for writing this entry, it is indeed sad... this world we're born into. They cover the horrible reality with lies. But I am sure your two sons will grow up to be wonderful and compassionate people.

    I plan on raising my kids vegan too, and your blog is a real inspiration. I wonder what my pregnancy will be like as a vegan :) maybe next year.


  5. Paola,
    Raising compassionate children is one of our ultimate goals! We are happy to be an inspiration and we send you the best and warmest wishes for when you do decide to make that vegan baby!