While reading to my daughter the other night, I ended up in a deep discussion about cannibalism of all things. We were reading Little House in The Big Woods and had just plowed through several chapters on how to kill, clean, prepare, and eat different kinds of animals. My daughter then asked which foods came from people. Of course I told her that we mustn't ever, not ever, eat another human being. She, of course, wanted to know why.
I had to think about this for a while. I then tried this angle with her. I asked, "Did the deer eat other deer?"
"No," she said.
"Did the pig eat another pig?" I asked.
"No," she said.
Obviously I had nipped that in the bud. My logic was flawless and easy to understand, even for a five year old. Then she came back with, "But what about the people that are bad? The ones that are really, really bad. Couldn't we shoot them and eat them?"
I tried to laugh it off and make a joke of it. I said, "They probably taste terrible."
"They probably taste like bacon," she said. "How would we ever know if we never tried them." She had successfully used the oldest parent trick to get kids to try vegetables against me. I was on the ropes.
An aside: This was more than I could take. I had always thought of my daughter as a bleeding heart liberal. She cheered on Barack Obama back in 2008, didn't she? Could it have just been that it was fun to say his name? Now she was not only arguing for the death penalty, but advocating for eating the condemned once their sentences had been carried out.
"We just don't do that," I said. Then I made it personal...and emotionally scaring. "If we did that, what would happen to you when you hit your brother or try to bite mommy." Her eyes sprung open. Her head shook side to side.
"No. No eating me!" she declared. I had won. I had taught my daughter a valuable lesson. Eat not, lest ye be eaten yourself. The golden rule of cannibalism. She understood, and we could move on with the story.
Later I rationalized that my daughter was not in favor of the death penalty. No daughter of mine would be. No way. No, my daughter was simply professing her vegetarian ideals. That sounds liberal enough, doesn't it? She was certainly making a point through irony. Showing me how wrong it was for Pa to kill those animals and for Ma to cook them up for Laura and Mary by turning the tables and suggesting we do the same with humans. I've heard veggies say that any argument you can use to justify eating meat can also be used to justify eating human babies. Don't worry baby Carrie; I don't buy it either.
Looking back on that conversation, I realized this is what I've been talking about here on this blog. This is why we need edgy YA literature. Do you see what happened there? If it weren't for reading that book with my daughter, she might still think it's okay to eat people when they are bad. I might come home to my poor two year old cooking in her Easy Bake oven with no recourse. I never said NOT to eat Owen, after all. The disturbing content of the book, content some parents would not want their daughters to read, prompted a conversation some parents would not want to have with their daughters. A conversation that did, in some sick, twisted way, have ethical value.
All kidding aside, this is what good literature does. This is what literature that pushes the envelope does. It sparks conversation. It sparks debate. It gives parents and teachers and friends a chance to discuss things like drug addiction, sex, suicide, and whatever else is out there, without teens having to live through it. So, lets keep teaching and reading those controversial titles. They open doors, they open minds, and most of all, they open hearts.
Here's to you Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thanks to you my daughter will not eat other people. And for that I can't thank you enough.