My three year old son asked me this while in the car the other day. We saw a cattle lorry go past our track on its way to the farm and Adam said, "Oh there's a lorry for the sheep. Where do the sheep go? Do the sheep go to a better farm, Mummy?"
I paused for a second to choose between the easy route and give my normal reply of "aaha" or to go for the more truthful answer. I'm surprised at myself for choosing the more difficult.
I said, "well, you know how we eat beef and lamb and chicken? Well, the sheep go to get made into food for us to eat."
I looked in the rear view mirror and saw his big sad eyes watering slightly. I immediately started the guilt-ridden thinking, "What have I just said? He's only 3. I'm such an idiot." This then changed into, "Why am I not vegetarian? I should be bringing him up as a vegetarian until he's old enough to choose for himself."
He then replied with, "But the sheep don't like that, do they Mummy?"
"No, they don't like it."
Another pause then he turned away and looked out the window. A minute later he started chatting about something else. Phew.
Today we saw another cattle lorry and he said, "Oh there's another lorry for the sheep. The sheep get taken away to get made into food but they don't like it."
I agreed with him and, as before, he changed the subject and it was forgotten.
I don't know to what extent he has made the connection as he hasn't said anything when we have been eating meat. At this stage, can he really relate his dinner to his favourite farm animals? I'd be interested to know how other parents have handled this and at what ages children generally find out the facts about their food.