“I hope that when I die I have earned my chickens.” I’m paraphrasing this quote I read a long time ago that really affected me. The speaker was a woman who hoped at the end of her life, that she had made enough of a difference in the world to make it up to all the chickens that had sustained her.
Recently, I passed by a couple of large poultry farms and a huge processing plant. An industry insider confided that each grow-out house contains thousands of young birds on a sawdust floor for the six weeks or so it takes them to be big enough to eat. The lights continue to glow after dark at one of the facilities to promote wakefulness and extended feeding. He didn’t want to discuss what he’d witnessed inside the processing plant. Once I witnessed a huge flatbed trailer in the parking lot loaded to the brim with chickens jammed into crates. There were so many feathered parts plastered against the slats that I could not tell if these birds were dead or alive. There was no room for movement.
So I started questioning where the chickens and eggs I consume come from. In her new book Veganist author Kathy Freston quotes a story from Josh Balk who went undercover at an unnamed poultry processing plant. I’m purposely omitting the stomach-turning parts of his story. “All the chickens I saw had severe feather loss on their stomachs and chests, presumably ammonia burns from living and lying in their own waste in the ‘grow-out’ facility. Poultry companies breed chickens to grow large so quickly: by the end of their life they’re often unable even to stand or walk for any significant period of time, thus they’re relegated to lying down for the vast majority of the day,” I can’t speak to the conditions inside the barns I saw, but I did pray for the chickens. And rolled up the car windows to block the smell.
Two related stories were published on National Public Radio this Wednesday. The first tells of the rapid rise of big business chicken farms because “Americans are now consuming more chicken than beef or pork.” Listen here. The second story discussed the recently published study on Bird Flu, stating “experiments that suggest just a few genetic changes could potentially make a bird flu virus capable of becoming contagious in humans, and causing a dangerous pandemic.”. Listen here.
Another book I’m reading is Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril edited by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P Nelson. This collection of essays includes Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Bells of Mindfulness. “We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed.” Um, I think he’s talking about us chickens.
So what can you and I do to help the chickens cross the road safely? The Environmental Defense Fund website states that “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains, for example, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.And speaking of cars, it takes fuel to transport food, so buying from local farmers and ranchers cuts emissions even if you don’t cut out any meat.”
There are a few farmers nearby that sell only free-range eggs. Grass roots groups are working to allow city residents to raise chickens in their backyards. My own commitment is to refrain from eating chicken and chicken stock, and to buy only local free-range eggs. And to make enough of a difference during this lifetime to have earned my chickens.
Think: Do you know where your food comes from? What can you do to choose your foods more consciously?
Say: Are you committed to walking your talk? Make one change to your diet this week and tell folks who will support you in making this change. Leave a comment here!
Do: Research the food production industry for yourself. Aim for more meatless meals, or if already vegetarian/vegan work towards raising more of your own food to reduce transportation costs and carbon emissions.