Ethical Quandaries at the Zoo

Mr. Steward and I took Bean to the zoo. She had begged to go for a while, so when the weather turned strangely warm on Saturday, we whipped out our corporate discount on off-season tickets and made the trip. Being the frugal planner I am, I packed along a huge bag of snacks to keep us going.

When we arrived, there was a large sign outside of the entrance. It featured a list of many bullet points, the last of which said (of course), “No food and drinks inside the zoo.” Having anticipated this turn of events, I had Mr. Steward run the snacks back to the car.

Fast forward to three hours later, when both Bean and I become hungry. We go to the small zoo café and pay the egregiously high price of $15.49 for a decent basket of fries, two mediocre chicken strips, and a slightly gross grilled chicken sandwich. Water was free. Of course, seated at the table next to us was a family similar to ours chowing down on loads of homemade food. And I didn’t just see it in the cafe–I saw Goldfish (not the animal kind) and other treats clutched in the hands of pretty much every toddler inside the zoo.

Weigh in on Our Quandary

Given Bean’s enthusiasm, this is unlikely to be our only zoo trip. For future visits, however, we have to decide whether to take the snacks in or not.

Mr. Steward is positive that I was literally the only person at the zoo who bothered to read the rules sign, much less to actually follow its instructions. For him, in light of an obvious absence of rule enforcement and a similar lack of reasonably-priced victuals, we cannot be expected to forego our frugal snacks. Additionally, the fact that we already paid for entrance means that they should not have rules that extract more spending from us..

I have several ninety-year-old-trapped-in-a-millennial’s-body retorts about the nature of rules, summarized as follows:

  1. Just because a rule isn’t followed or even enforced doesn’t make it a bad or even unnecessary rule.
  2. “Okay unless you get caught” is not a decent standard for engaging in society.
  3. MR. STEWARD OBVIOUSLY JUST WANTS TO WATCH IT ALL BURN.

Seriously, though, my fear is that the rule exists for the same reason that movie theater snacks are massively overpriced: it might be a key way that the zoo gets revenue. In that case, by choosing to break their rule, I’m depriving them of revenue they may need to continue to provide a service I value. I am not obligated to buy movie theater snacks or zoo lunches. They are, of course, voluntary. But so is visiting the zoo in the first place. I feel that by choosing to visit their establishment, I also agree to abide by the establishment’s rules while I’m there. That means I didn’t get to eat my trail mix, as yummy as it sounded.

What is your take on the situation? Would you bring the snacks into the zoo or leave them at home?

14 Replies to “Ethical Quandaries at the Zoo”

  1. Kyle

    I agree with you. I don’t know what it is about people like us, but if wearing grey shoes on a Tuesday is against the rules somewhere, I just wait outside. I think it’s especially important in situations like yours, where a child is watching what you do. This is a pretty small potatoes deal, but if he sees by your example that following the rules is what’s important regardless of what the rule actually is, he’s learning integrity over personal gain. I get that there’s probably something to be said for challenging dumb rules/laws, but that’s probably a conversation to be saved for after the lion exhibit.

    • howwedomoney

      I had not considered the little eyes watching, but you’re quite right.

      There is indeed something to be said for challenging dumb laws. That is the problem I’m having trouble articulating–where is the line between rules that we don’t like but should probably follow (like helping the zoo to continue to exist with our food purchase) and not–when people’s human rights are being denied or an injustice is occurring.

  2. Felicity (@FelicityFFF)

    Oh man, I’m usually lawful good, but movie theater snacks has always been my limit. And I feel the same way in this situation…

    I’m not big on the “it’s how they make their money” argument – they should change the way they make money then.

    Clarification on the rules/signage – no *outside* food or drink? Or just no food outside where the animals might want to nab it? The latter is how I initially read the rule – it could be you call for clarification and don’t need to have an ethical quandary. 😃

    • Ms. Steward

      But ethical quandaries are fun!!! It’s definitely no food or drink inside exhibits, but the sign verbiage just said, “No food or drink inside the zoo.” I read the outside as implicit, since the zoo has restaurants.

      Also, that’s why I love this question–because movie snacks are most people’s exception! That said, I am always ambivalent about the “change your business model” line of argument. You knew their business model when you went… why not really stick it to them and just not go? 😉

      • Felicity (@FelicityFFF)

        Haha, true!

        And I pretty much never go to the movie theater anymore either. XD

        It’s not like there’s an alternative movie theater business model to support, though. And now that I think about it, even if someone set it up – pricier tickets, but we encourage you to bring your own snacks (and/or provide reasonably priced snacks) – I’m not sure if most people would vote with their wallets anyway / it probably wouldn’t survive.

  3. Rachel Allene

    I think you did the right thing! Whether or not everyone follows a rule does not make it obsolete. Are you able to leave snacks in the car and go out to get them for lunch? The zoos in my area will stamp your hand to allow for re-entrance on the same day.

      • Emily

        They do. There are picnic tables on one of the sides outside, and Whiteriver state park is nearby.

        I wonder if they were lax because it is off-season? Or if the zoo, in general, doesn’t enforce like it should.

        Since my mom works for a non-profit animal rescue, I think one of the no food driving forces is that people are dumb and attempt to feed the animals sometimes. That food, not part of a strict diet, can do way more harm than good. Plus lids and straws and…

        I was happy to see they allow water bottles (sans outer straws again) because that is the part that annoys me the most.

        Interestingly, and I don’t know why, I feel differently about movie theater snacks. Although since I was introduced to the kidpac, I am way more okay with paying for movie snacks.

        • Ms. Steward

          That’s great to know! I appreciate the info on the tables and stamping. That solves my quandary… although I’d rather keep the discussion going!

          I had considered the food harming the animals part, except they allow food and drink from the cafes elsewhere…

          I agree that water is a basic right. People can be seriously injured from a lack of access to water, so it should be allowed at zoos, theaters, etc.

          • Emily

            I also wonder if, on a subconscious level, it doesn’t bother me to buy food at a zoo, because I believe in the mission/vision of the place, whereas at a theme park or the movies, it’s just entertainment and I view it differently? Although I think theme parks are even more lenient now than movie theaters…

  4. Mary

    There are so many different food allergies these days, it might be that is just more profitable for the ZOO to not enforce the rule than risk being sued for discriminating people with medical condition (i.e. by not offering any of the food they are not allergic to). Just my 5 cents.
    Also from my experience any venue with similar rule had no issue with bringing any type of baby/toddler food and drinks in. You just show them the food and your kid and they don’t even blink an eye.

    • Ms. Steward

      We have since visited several theme parks and similar venues, and I think you’re right about toddler food. They haven’t batted an eye at all. I think this is just my meticulous rule-following tendency rearing its ugly head. I also definitely hadn’t thought about the allergies! Great point.

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