A Norwegian preschool is under fire for its latest field trip – to a reindeer slaughterhouse

By Amy B Wang, The Washington Post - January 17, 2017
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Peppered throughout the Facebook page for Granstubben Barnehage, a preschool in central Norway, are numerous pictures of its young students leading what appear to be idyllic lives in the Norwegian countryside.

There they are in October, playing hand-designed board games among the trees. Here they are again, having a campfire cookout in the woods.

In December, they appeared shrouded in bright, puffy coats, skiing in neat lines upon the fresh-fallen snow.

And last Tuesday afternoon, the preschool posted another Facebook update about its latest field trip – this time of the children visiting a reindeer slaughterhouse.

In one photo, a small child drags a still-bloody reindeer pelt across the snow. In another, a group of children appear to be tossing reindeer parts into a giant dumpster. Several other photos depict what appear to be the freshly slaughtered animals.

The kids thought it was strange at first, but before long it was “normal,” the preschool staff wrote on Facebook. They added, with a smiling emoji, that the children were reassured that “Rudolph” had not been among the animals slaughtered.

“Regardless of your perception on it, there is NO way to ‘humanely’ kill an innocent being who just wants to be left alone,” Francisco Quezada Santos of Nicaragua wrote in a post to the preschool’s Facebook page. “Children that age are not old enough to make those kind of choices, nor they should be taking those kind of decisions at an early age. To make them participate on this is just barbaric. To make them witness such things will only take away their innocence and sensitivity. You would expect more from a ‘civilized’ country.”

Others applauded the school for not airbrushing the process of preparing meat for consumption. Kids, many wrote, should be able to understand the connection between animals and where their food comes from.

“I wish my kids went to this kindergarten, as well,” Jacob Palm, of Denmark, wrote on the preschool’s page. “This is the best way to learn about life.”

The school is located in Henning, a village in central Norway about 375 miles north of Oslo.

Dag Olav Stoelan, head of the preschool, told the Associated Press that the trip was intended to teach the 5-year-old students about the indigenous Sami people, many of whom herd reindeer in northern Norway.

All of the children on the trip had received permission from their parents before participating, and none of them had negative reactions, according to the AP.

Stoelan added it was not the first time they had made such an outing – and that they would do it again.

“Bringing the kids to see how meat is produced is part of the upbringing,” Stoelan told the New York Times. “Too many people think food is produced at the shop window. I’d say this is pretty ingrained in Norwegian culture, since the old days. Kids on the farm were always brought to see the slaughter from their early years off, and still today, many go with their parents to see how animals are slaughtered after the hunt.”

None of the children saw the moment of slaughter, he added.

Ellinor Marita Jama, a representative in the Sami Parliament of Norway, wrote in a Facebook post that she appreciated the school teaching the children about Sami culture.

“In addition, it is a very important lesson to get insight into where food actually comes from,” the politician wrote in Norwegian. “You should be proud of being able to enrich your children with a knowledge that very few people have access to.”

The field trip and the online backlash to it was reminiscent of similar events held at zoos in nearby Denmark in recent years. In 2014, the Copenhagen Zoo drew outrage after it killed a healthy male giraffe to avoid inbreeding, dismembered it in front of an audience and then fed the meat to lions.

In 2015, the Odense Zoo dissected a lion in front of a crowd of 400 people, many of them children, despite a petition against the dissection that had circulated the week leading up to the event.

The Odense Zoo also defended its event as educational.

“Wouldn’t it be stranger if I were standing here cutting up an animal that smelled like flowers or something else?”zoo guide Rasmus Kolind said, according to Agence France-Presse. “Dead animals smell like dead animals. There’s not a lot to say about that.”

Writing for the Local, a Danish news site, columnist Jessica Alexander said she could understand how foreigners would find “Danish honesty” to be too blunt, but said such an approach to parenting was ingrained in the culture.

“Many Danes feel this experience gives their children the true insight to help them make their own choices in the future,” Alexander wrote. “That could be anything from becoming a veterinarian to a vegetarian to an animal activist.”