Why My Family Doesn’t Go to the State Fair


Tomorrow marks the start of the annual Wisconsin State Fair. Like so many events of its kind across the United States, the Wisconsin State Fair is a 11-day gathering centered on greasy, sugary foods like cream puffs, deep fried cheese curds on a stick, and all manner of things wrapped in bacon. As a child, my family used to attend just about every year. I especially liked the flavored cow’s milk—raspberry, pineapple, key lime—all sorts of flavors you couldn’t get at any other time. While mixing multiple cups of cow’s milk with soaring summer temperatures wasn’t always the best idea and led to stomach pains on a few occasions, I still remember having a good time.

I also remember passing tent after tent of farmed animals. I was shocked by the size of the pigs who looked too fat and hot to move. I loved watching the cows though; I had grown up passing fields of them while traveling around the state. They always seemed gentle and friendly as their wide eyes stared back at me over the fencing. The calves, especially, were adorable. I don’t think I wondered what would happen to the calves or what they ate; we were taught that cows have to be milked otherwise they would be in pain. No one ever mentioned pregnancy, babies, or veal. Of course, this born and raised Wisconsin girl was happy to help the cause by downing cups of white chocolate milk and deep-fried cottage cheese balls (on a stick).

One year, after we had enjoyed a big, meat-filled lunch, I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye. It was a spit roasting chickens, and as they moved around and around, I had a revelation—meat comes from dead animals. Those were the bodies of animals. I screamed bloody murder. It was so loud and sudden that my mom thought a bee had stung me and came rushing to my side. I was quickly assured that animals are “meant” to be eaten, that we raise them for food, that they aren’t very smart anyway, and that it’s what everyone does. I had just eaten animals for lunch, and I was only 10, so I calmed down soon after and went on with my day. When I became vegan a decade later, my mom recounted this story and said she should have known.

My 3-year-old girls are unlikely to ever go to the Wisconsin State Fair. There are plenty of other summer festivals we can enjoy with carnival rides, cotton candy, music, and games for kids that aren’t also forums to display humanity’s warped relationship with animals. However, if we ever do attend the fair, it will be when they are older, have an understanding of the cruelties implicit in animal agriculture, and can be informed witnesses to the callous disregard for animals on display there. They will be old enough to notice the crying teenage girl who doesn’t want the calf she’s raised to maturity to be sent to die and be eaten. They will recognize the display of animals prized for their genitalia, breeding abilities, musculature, or overall size as an affront to their rights as individuals who exist for their own reasons rather than to simply serve the desires of humans. They will know animals’ bodies do not belong to us. Like me, they might cry, but I will not tell them it’s OK, or that it’s simply what humans have done for generations. I will cry with them, and we will work together to create a kinder world.

Posted in Family Life

Reannon is the founder of Generation Veggie. She has been an animal advocate since 2000 and a fan of “The X-Files” since 1995. Reannon is a cake enthusiast who lives with her husband and 5-year-old twin girls in Madison, Wisconsin.