The front page imagery of the July 18 Register-Guard article “Food, fun, and fur at the fair” is, no doubt, accidentally ironic. Brian Davies’ photograph in silhouette is a powerful visual statement to the instrumental use of farmed animals.

The sheep appear to be suspended by hooks as they are transported in to the agricultural exhibit. They are not shown as individuals who, like humans, form emotional bonds, experience joy, and have the capacity to suffer. Rather, they are considered mere livestock that will be put on display for eventual slaughter and human consumption, each becoming one of the 56 billion animals killed for this purpose each year.

Support for annual rituals such as the display of animals in county farm exhibits is an example of the power of discourse to divert attention from the suffering of those who are used for food, fun and fur. Sheep, cows, pigs, rabbits and other animals are presented as always happy and healthy beings destined to spend their entire lives romping in green pastures.

The truth is much darker. Typically, their lives are unnaturally short and their purpose is only to serve us — as the article headline reveals this week’s event as “Food, fun, and fur.” Once the lights go out and the tents are torn down, the animals will eventually be disposed of when no longer of reproductive age, if their flesh is no longer deemed tender enough for our palates, or they otherwise take up too much space.

What is also concealed, yet ironically revealed by this photograph, is how children will learn about animals during this annual event. Despite their engagement with the animals, children are learning to engage in harmful levels of emotional distancing that will serve them later in life for creating distance between themselves and other humans.

Live animal exhibits construct an agrarian narrative designed to teach children how to cope with the contradictory ethical and emotional experiences of caring for an animal before selling him or her to be killed. What children learn about animals has a lifelong impact not only on the animals, but on other human beings.

A compassionate, empathetic child becomes a compassionate empathetic adult if, and only if, he or she experiences animals in person and knows the whole story. Many young people participate in 4H, where they learn all kinds of useful skills. Displaying animals turns them into objects, and teaches children that industrial farming of them is natural and normal. Importantly, the techniques of psychological distancing they learn become evident not only in how animals are treated but one another, particularly in a climate of discourse that refers to specific groups of human beings as animals.

It is all connected, particularly when other others might look, worship, eat, play or vote differently or cross borders.

Debra Merskin is a professor in the University of Oregon's School of Journalism & Communication.   Kristin Allen is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Florida State University.