Friday, April 30, 2010

Food for the animals?

Today I went to a zoo I hadn't been to before, and I'm not sure what to think about it. Having yesterday been to the (free) National Zoo -- where signs all over tell you the animals are on a planned diet and please don't feed them -- I was surprised that when I was buying my tickets for this place out in the NoVa 'burbs, I was asked if I wanted to also purchase feed or bottles. Huh?

"All the animals can eat this grain, and the animals in the barn will take these bottles," the cheery cashier explained. I didn't really know what to expect, but I figured that without much rationale other than not wanting to spend more money, I didn't want to put up with what I assumed would be a preschoolers many future requests for feed as we made our way around the farm-ish park.

So my friend and I went in on a $10 bucket of food pellets and bought a bottle for each of the three boys in our charge.

And then we went into the barn.

Those poor animals, was my first thought. They see us humans simply as food sources, but in a frenetic way that had me wondering if the zookeepers slip some kind of special ingredient into those pellets...

Maybe it was just that we were among the first ones there, I thought, but again over an hour later, after several school busloads had descended on the place, the animals were just as greedy. And just as loud. Wow, does my kid never need to hear some fake sheep or goat sound again. I think he's making "maaaa" noises in bed right now.

My son got a kick out of feeding animals, and he sure did get close to the them! But I remain disturbed by the idea of all these animals being fed non-stop, all day long (not very Waldorf, to have no rhythm or pattern to your eating!) And I'm guessing what is going into their bellies is something that is probably not that great for them. Maybe occasionally they get to graze on grass, or the pigs get to forage, but I doubt it.

Even if I'm not going to eat these guys, I'd still like them to be healthy. When I watched the movie King Corn and saw how messed up the stomachs of grain-fed cattle get, I started to understand just how wrong-headed farming practices are. Is this zoo any different?

So, my kid got to see a bunch of animals up close, including camels and goats, sheep and spider monkeys, kangaroos and huge pythons. I'm sure zoo-going helps kids develop an appreciation of the many varied life forms on our planet and a curiosity about the natural world.

I just also feel a little yucky about the fact that it's not very, well, natural.

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