Two holiday-themed Bizarro strips.
In the first, a group of turkeys looks on in horror and disgust as a farmer, clad in the requisite red flannel, hauls two of their terrified brethren from the barn, seemingly for slaughter. Two turkeys in the foreground discuss this all-too-predictable turn of events: “This is all about ‘thanks.’ Next month, the massacre starts all over again in the name of ‘peace on Earth.'”
The second strip shows a turkey angel visiting with a reindeer, who looks a little mopey despite the festive bells slung around his neck. The wizened turkey advises, “I’m just saying, WATCH YOUR BACK. I was a holiday icon too, & look what happened to me.
Images copyright Dan Piraro.
I realize that a review of an animal rights book isn’t wholly in keeping with the theme of veganmofo; so, to compensate, I’ve included a number of yummy, egg- and bird-free recipes at the bottom of this post. Hopefully this will help drive home that point that the atrocities described in Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs are 1000% unnecessary while also placating the veganmofo goddesses! (No smiting of my person, mkay? Nevermind that I also have a blog named Smite Me!)
Out of respect for my fellow mofo’ers, I’ve purposefully omitted any visual representations of animal exploitation from this post, so you can scroll through without worry.
Or, if you’d rather not read the review, you can jump straight to the recipes!
Book Review: Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An inside look at the modern poultry industry by Karen Davis (1996; revised 2009)
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)
[FYI: you can download a pdf copy of the first edition here. Also, by way of disclaimer, I received a free review copy of this book from the the publisher, The Book Publishing Company. As in, nearly a year ago. Slow, who me?]
In the United States, nearly 10 billion chickens are slaughtered every year; worldwide, the number is 40 billion and growing, as agribiz continues to export America’s extremely unhealthy, meat-laden diet – as well as its industrialized method of animal “farming” – to developing nations. At any given time, 5 billion hens “live” in battery cages on American “farms,” so that their bodies may be exploited for eggs. Because male chicks are an unwanted byproduct of this system, 250 million of them are discarded – suffocated, gassed, ground up or merely thrown out, alive – annually.
While chickens – hens, roosters and chicks; mothers, fathers and children – represent the single most exploited species of farmed animals, they receive perhaps the least consideration. More chickens are enslaved and slaughtered per year than cows, pigs, sheeps and goats combined – and yet, along with cold-blooded mammals such as reptiles, chickens and other birds are not even considered “animals” under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act. (Granted, animals farmed for food and fiber are also not covered under the AWA, but this is perhaps small consolation, as they still fall under the rubric of “animals.”) Perhaps it’s their “alien” faces, what with rigid beaks where expressive mouths “should” be, but humans seem to have more trouble empathizing with chickens and birds than other farmed animal species, such as pigs and cows (who, of course, receive less consideration than “pet” species, such as dogs and cats).
In the intro to Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, Karen Davis – founder and director of United Poultry Concerns (UPC) – reports that, when she first became involved in advocating on behalf of chickens in the late 1980s, these beautiful and abused creatures were largely overlooked in animal welfare and rights campaigns:
I was told by some that people weren’t “ready” for chickens. This proved to be false. The point, in any case, was to make people ready.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of folks like Davis, chickens are now central to the vegan and anti-factory farming movements. Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs – first published in 1996 and revised in 2009 – provides an accessible and compressive, if horrifying and hard-to-read, overview of industrialized chicken egg and “meat” production. (Something similar is sorely needed for fishes and other “seafood,” who seem to be the chickens and birds of this decade. But I digress.)
What with a 19-page reference list and copious quotations culled from industry publications and decades-old news clippings, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs is meticulously researched and brimming with information. I’d hoped to include a list of talking points or key facts, but the sheer breadth and detail makes this nearly impossible. (That, and I’m not exactly about brevity, as regular readers well know!) Instead, let’s take this summary chapter by chapter, shall we?
Mayfly. The sole survivor of a school hatching project, Mayfly was rescued by Farm Sanctuary in 2002 and lived out his life in safety at its New York shelter. Sadly, he passed away last winter. You can read more about Mayfly on Farm Sanctuary’s website,
and view more pictures of this beautiful bird on Flickr.
Image copyright Farm Sanctuary; all rights reserved.
Davis begins the discussion by tracing the human-chicken relationship to its roots; namely, back to the jungle fowl living in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. Although our treatment of chickens has not changed qualitatively – humans have always exploited chickens for their meat and eggs (and fought them for entertainment) – it has undergone a dramatic shift in scope. With the advent of the modern factory farm in the 1950s, the environment and numbers in which we “kept” chickens transformed. Instead of outdoor pens that at least accommodated the chickens’ natural behaviors (e.g., roosting), farmers – and, later, agribusiness – began to house chickens in massive, filthy, crowded sheds that housed hundreds of thousand of birds at a time. When a chicken’s natural constitution proved inconvenient to a farmer (and his bottom line), the solution was to force the chicken’s body to conform to its unnatural environment, rather than change the environment to suit the individual or species. Enter: debeaking, starvation (i.e., forced molting), blackouts, the overuse of antibiotics and artificial insemination. From “animal” to “machine.”
Like most books that describe an animal exploitation industry, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs is arguably feminist in nature – inasmuch as the abuses necessitated by such systems are gendered and rely on continued rape and forced pregnancy and birth. (Culminating, almost always, with the interruption and severing of the mother-child bond.) However, Davis – a previous contributor to at least one ecofeminist anthology, and author of The Holocaust & the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities – goes a step further, weaving various feminist and otherwise intersectional anecdotes and analyses into the text.
Consider, for example, the following excerpts from Chapter 1:
Most of us know deep inside that we are members of a single family of living creatures, yet many people resist this knowledge and its implications. Evolution is accepted, but the sentiment of kinship still struggles to evolve. (pp. 17-18)
Before the Second World War, women were the primary caretakers of poultry in the United States. According to American Poultry History, many men felt it was beneath them to “spend their time fussing with a lot of hens.” Mrs. W. B. Morehouse told a Wisconsin’s Farmers’ Institute audience in 1892, “A good many of the masculine gender tell us that it will so lower their dignity as to actually become a poultry keeper.” On most farms, the housewife and children looked after the flock, using the pin money received to buy groceries. […] However, as poultry-keeping changed from a small farm project to a major business enterprise, it wasn’t long until, as one woman put it, “my” flock became “our” flock and ultimately “his” flock. (pp. 7-8)
The morality of forcing human beings to subsist in an alien environment to serve economic objectives was analyzed by Karl Marx in terms that provide insight into the experience of chickens shunted into human-created environments that are alien to their nature. Marx described four interrelated aspects of alienation: from the product [or from their own products], from the productive activity, from the species life, and from nature. We can look at chickens and other captive animals from a similar viewpoint. (p. 12)
This – the kinship between humans and chickens, and hens and women – is a theme Davis returns to throughout the book, with heartbreaking results.
A hen stands watch over her three chicks. Photo taken in Guatemala.
CC image via Flickr user Dave Wilson Photography.
Before moving on to the pitiable “living” conditions of “laying” hens and “battery” chickens, and the horrific death common to them all, Davis describes the family, social and emotional and intellectual lives of hens, roosters and chicks in loving and lovely detail. For generations, hens have been utilized as a symbol of motherhood and the maternal instinct, and for good reason – hens are protective, devoted and brave mothers.
An annoyed hen will confront a pesky young rooster with her hackles raised and run him off! Although chickens will fight fiercely and successfully with foxes and eagles to protect their family, with humans such bravery usually does not win. A woman employed on a breeder farm in Maryland wrote a letter to the newspaper berating the defenders of chickens for trying to make her lose her job, threatening her ability to support herself and her daughter.
For her, “breeder” hens were “mean” birds who “peck your arm when you are trying to collect the eggs.” In her defense of her life and her daughter’s life against the champions of chickens, she failed to see the comparison between her motherly protection of her child and the exploited hen’s courageous effort to protect her own offspring. (pp. 28-29)
Likewise, while polygamous, roosters form deep bonds with their mates and are an integral part of the family unit.
Most striking is Davis’s description of the egg (and embryonic development occurring within); even if you slept through high school biology, it’s hard not to be impressed by how complicated this seemingly simple process/product really is. You’ll never look at an egg – or a mother hen – the same way again.
Intertwined with the wonder of chicken birth are the horrors of school hatching projects and commercial egg hatcheries – the largest of which might “produce” two million chicks per week. The conditions into which these babies are born stand in stark contrast to the loving comfort of a mother’s wing. This is but a prelude for what’s to come next.
“Battery” or “laying” hens are essentially female chickens enslaved and exploited for their eggs. These hens are commonly “housed” in a cage measuring 15-16″ high x 12″ deep x 18-20″ wide – with five to ten hens per cage. Cages stacked one on top of another in seemingly endless rows result in anywhere from 150,000 to 380,000 “layers” in a single building, and up to 2 to 5 million birds in a multi-building complex. Hens may live this way anywhere from one to two years, until their bodies are “spent” and no longer able to produce the desired number of eggs – at which time they are unceremoniously slaughtered or simply discarded. Because their flesh is sub-par, meat from “battery” hens often winds up in
chicken soups, pies, and nuggets, commercial mink and pet food, livestock and poultry feed, and school lunches and other institutionalized food service and government purchase programs designed by the egg industry and the Department of Agriculture to dump dead laying hens onto consumers in diced up form.
Since their “purpose” is to produce eggs and not meat, the bodies of “battery” hens undergo brutal exploitation; so many essential nutrients are diverted toward egg production that their skeletons become brittle and prone to breakage.
Hens living in these unnatural, unsanitary and physically and psychologically stressful conditions are prone to a number of other maladies, including:
* foot and leg deformities (from a life spent standing on sloping, rectangular metal wire);
* cellulitis or “swollen head syndrome”;
* osteoporosis – the loss of bone tissue resulting in weak and brittle bones – also caged layer “fatigue”;
* caged layer “hysteria” or “fear” (a “diagnosis” which essentially pathologizes a normal and understandable reaction; see below);
* fatty liver syndrome;
* Salmonella poising (spread by rodent droppings);
* manure and ammonia “burn”;
* coccidosis (caused by coccidia, a parasite that’s normally present in the gut and not harmful under natural conditions);
* cannibalism (a result of overcrowding, hunger and stress);
* acute and chronic pain and an inability to eat, leading to starvation, due to “improper” debeaking (which is itself an industry “solution” to cannibalism and hen-on-hen attacks);
* heat stress;
* mouth ulcers;
* psychological distress and disorder caused by the stifling of a hen’s natural instincts, including nesting and dustbathing; and
* a general susceptibility to disease
Additionally, starvation in the form of “forced molting” is not only acceptable, but standard industry practice, meant to eke out an extra laying cycle or two from a nearly-“spent” flock:
The U.S. poultry and egg industries use food deprivation and nutrient restriction as an economic tool to manipulate egg production in commercial laying hens and in male and female birds used for breeding of both egg-type and meat-type birds. In the United States, hens used for commercial egg production are depopulated at seventeen or eighteen months old, or they are kept for another laying cycle and depopulated at two years old. The dwindling number of survivors may even be kept for a third cycle until they are two and a half years old, and then destroyed, whichever is cheaper.
Birds to be re-used are force-molted – “recycled” – to prepare them for the next laying cycle. In this procedure, they are partially or completely starved for two to five to fourteen days or longer to give them a “rest.” Their food is removed or nutritionally reduced, causing the hormone levels that induce egg production and inhibit feather growth to drop. New feathers push out old ones [“molting”], and the hen stops laying for one or two months instead of four. […]
Poultry researchers invent, duplicate, and refine starvation and nutrient-reduction methods in experiments designed for commercial use and to perpetuate research. The three main methods of forced molting are (1) elimination or limination of food and/or water, (2) feeding the birds low-nutrient diets deficient in protein, calcium, or sodium, and (3) administration of drugs and metals including methalibure, enhepton, progesterone, chlormadinone, aluminum, iodine, and zinc. (pp. 75-76)
Davis’s description of egg laying as it transpires in a battery cage is agonizing. In a book filled with horror and suffering, these passages are among those that affected me the most:
The actual laying of the egg is a complex process involving nervous signals from the brain to the muscles of the uterus and vagina, and the influence of hormones released from the posterior pituitary gland. Just as prolactin and other hormones that initiate maternal behavior are the same in both mammals and birds, so the hormones that stimulate muscular contractions in birds are the same ones that stimulate the uterine contractions in mammals leading to birth. This commonality, as noted in The Chicken Book, is one of many biological signals showing that despite evolutionary divergences, “chickens, and ourselves, are still members of a family, and a single family at that, of living creatures.” […]
If pride and satisfaction are an important part of egg laying in chickens, then the following description of the caged hen’s ordeal may be cited in contrast:
“The frightened battery hen starts to panic as she vainly searches for privacy and a suitable nesting place in the crowded but bare wire cage; then she appears to become oblivious to her surroundings, struggling against the cage as though trying to escape…
“Take a moment to imagine yourself as a layer chicken; your home is a crowded cage with a wire floor that causes your feet to hurt and become deformed; there’s no room to stretch your legs or flap your wings and they become weak from lack of exercise; but at the same time, you can never be still because there is always one of your miserable cell mates who needs to move about; one of the other chickens is always picking on you and you cannot get away – except by letting others sit on top of you; the air is filled with dust and flying feathers that stick to the sides of the cage splattered with chicken shit from the inmates in the cage upstairs; it is hard to breathe – there is the choking stench of ammonia in the air from the piles of manure under the cages and you don’t feel at all well; the flies are unbearable…[E]ventually, despite your wretchedness and anguish, and the tormented din of thousands of birds shrieking their pain together, you lay an egg and watch it roll out of sight; but the joy of making a nest, of giving birth, of clucking your chicks is absent – laying the egg is an empty, frustrating, and exhausting ritual.” (pp. 31-32)
[Excerpt from Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm: The Myth of the Traditional Farm and the Shocking Truth About Animal Suffering in Today’s Agribusiness, C. David Coats, 1989, pgs. 93-94.]
The laying of an egg has been degraded by the battery system to a squalid discharge so humiliating that ethologist Konrad Lorenz compared it to humans forced to defecate in each others’ presence. (p. 49)
Poultry researchers have described the futile attempts of caged hens to build nests and their frantic efforts to escape the cage by jumping at the bars right up to the laying of the egg. (p. 50)
Also interesting from a feminist perspective is a section on “Caged Layer Hysteria, Fatigue, and Fear” (pp. 52-54) in which Davis describes several afflictions common to layer hens:
Caged layer fatigue is the term that is used to describe the condition of osteoporosis – loss of bone tissue – in laying hens kept in cages.
As with humans, osteoporosis in chickens can lead to bone fragility and bone fractures, as well as “an inability to stand” and paralysis.
Related to cage layer fatigue are hysteria and fear. Birds whose bones become paralyzed cannot reach their food and water. Videotapes show hens beating wildly against cage bars, shrieking, and hens with their heads and wings stuck between cage bars, their terror frozen in their faces and their eyes.
In 1981, Klaus Vestergaard cited 84 studies conducted between the 1940s and 1970s on the effect of cage systems versus non-cage systems on frustration, fear, and hysteria responses in laying hens. No matter how “flighty” the genetic stock was, cages produced the worst effects. […] The studies showed that “hens are more fearful in battery cages than in pens” and “the fear tends to increase with density. Hysteria, which is characterized by sudden wild flight, squawking (fear squawking?), and attempts to hide, has been interpreted as an abnormal fright-fear behaviour.”
More than 20 years later, Commercial Chicken Meat and Eggs Production talks about “emotionality (fearfulness, hysteria)” and fatigue in caged laying hens.
When applied to human females, adjectives like “emotional,” “flighty,” and – especially – “hysterical” are loaded terms with a lengthy history of sexist usage. Consider, for example, this brief summary of “hysteria” from Wiki:
Until the seventeenth century, hysteria was regarded as of uterine origin (from the Greek “hustera” = uterus) in the Western world. Hysteria referred to a medical condition, thought to be particular to women, caused by disturbances of the uterus. The term hysteria was coined by Hippocrates, who thought that suffocation and madness arose in women whose uteri had become too light and dry from lack of sexual intercourse and, as a result, wandered upward, compressing the heart, lungs, and diaphragm. The belief was that hysterical symptoms would emanate from the part of the body in which the wandering uterus lodged itself. Originally defined as “a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus” (“Hysterical”).
The same general definition, or under the name female hysteria, came into use in the middle and late 19th century to describe what is today generally considered to be sexual dysfunction. Typical treatment was massage of the patient’s genitalia by the physician and later vibrators or water sprays to cause orgasm.
“Female hysteria” even has its own entry:
Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women, which is today no longer recognized by modern medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the medical literature of the Victorian era. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and “a tendency to cause trouble”.
While a comprehensive discussion of sexism in psychiatry, psychology, and medicine is well beyond the scope of this post (if you’re interested, I have written about sexism in personality disorder diagnoses elsewhere), it’s worth noting that descriptors such as “hysterical” and “flighty” are much more likely to be applied to women than men. Indeed, emotionality, nervousness, and fearfulness are all stereotypically “feminine” traits; in this context, it’s worth noting how the hens’ reactions to their oppressive and torturous environment are interpreted and labeled 1) in feminine terms and 2) as somehow dysfunctional (as if you wouldn’t similarly try to escape from a laying cage!). Similarly, women who exhibit anger, fear, upset, complaint, and other “negative” or “unwomanly” emotions may be labeled “hysterical,” “emotional,” “crazy,” or “angry” (or “man-hating feminazis”) – irregardless of whether circumstances warrant such “extreme” emotions.
Chapter 3 concludes with a brief look at “laying” operations outside the United States (specifically, Canada, the European Union, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Australia and New Zealand), including welfare reforms. Though Davis is consistently critical of “organic,” “free range,” and “humane” animal exploitation throughout Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs – and, likewise, UPC promotes veganism rather than vegetarianism or “humane” meat (an oxymoron if ever there was one!) – abolitionists will likely take issue with her begrudging acceptance of welfare reforms in Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, e.g.:
The battle to liberate hens from battery cages has begun, and it includes all of us. Wherever we are, we are morally obliged to end the oppression. Battery cages should be abolished in the United States and throughout the world. Until they have been discontinued, our species stands condemned of a criminal relationship with the living world. People should boycott battery eggs and discover the variety of egg-free alternatives. (p. 96)
Without digressing into a discussion of my own views on welfare reform, suffice it to say that, while I think most reforms are borderline useless – riddled with loopholes and lack of enforcement as they are – I don’t find all single-issue campaigns necessarily speciesist or reinforcing of other types of oppression. (Ditto: single-issue human rights campaigns.) Really, it depends on the campaign: how it’s devised and framed, the language employed therein, the solutions it posits, the groups it welcomes into its coalition, etc. That said, I rarely if ever volunteer my time or donate my money to such campaigns, though I may support them at the ballot box. (Missouri’s recent Proposition B is a good example of a bill I disliked but voted for anyhow.)
Considering this, I still found Davis’s position on welfare reforms – as voiced in Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs – to be a little confusing at times. Using the above excerpt as an example, Davis advocates in favor of the abolition of battery cages – just 35 pages after dismissing its precursor and likely alternative (i.e., group housing on shed floors) to be equally inhumane and unacceptable. While clearly devices of torture, battery cages aren’t the problem; rather, the human consumption of chicken eggs and “meat” is. Which, of course, can be further attributed to speciesism, anthrocentrism and our general tolerance (encouragement, even) of discrimination and oppression.
CC image via Flickr user mark lorch.
Whereas egg production used to be the poultry industry’s primary source of revenue, “broiler” chickens – i.e., chickens raised specifically for their flesh – now dominate the market; in 1992, for example, “meat” was responsible for 61% of the $15 billion total “producer value,” according to Davis.
“Broiler” chicks are birthed in hatcheries, far removed from the hen and rooster who created them. (These animals are held captive in another type of building, coined the “breeder house.” A chick’s mother may outlive him, but not by much; “breeding” chickens are “liquidated” after 40 weeks.) From the time they’re born until the day they’re packed into cages, loaded onto trucks, and transported to the slaughterhouse, these chickens grow and “live” in massive “chicken houses” – sheds or “tunnel housing” – along with tens of thousands of other chickens, as well as the accumulation of their collective waste, which (as with “laying” hens) is only cleaned up when the flock is “depopulated.” Because they have been bred for rapidly accelerated growth, these chickens – babies, really – may be “ready” for slaughter in just over a month.
Like “laying” hens, “broiler” chickens suffer a number of physical diseases and behavioral issues that are a direct result of so-called scientific “advances” in breeding and rearing:
* growth-related mortality: bred for forced rapid growth, the bodies of many “broiler” chickens simply give out, resulting, for example, in congestive heart failure – in babies;
* arthritis and skeletal issues, again due to unnatural, rapid growth and the stress that this excess weight exerts on the body;
* ulcers on the feet and blisters (similar to bed sores) on the legs and breast, which are both painful and invite “bacterial rot”;
* ulcerative and necrotic diseases, such as femoral head necrosis and gangrenous dermatitis;
* orthopedic (bone) disorders, including skeletal abnormalities, such as bowed or twisted legs, bone fractures and fissures, and dislocated vertebrae;
* ascites syndrome (also called “waterbelly” or “leaking liver”), a metabolic disease of the cardiovascular system that often results in sudden death;
* suffocation, either due to computer failure or poor air quality and pollution;
* damage to the respiratory system caused by ammonia, released into the air by the breakdown of manure;
* kertaconjunctivitis, an inflammation and erosion of the eye cornea, also caused by exposure to ammonia;
* aggression and stress caused by overcrowding and a lack of personal space;
* chronic and acute pain; and
* physical and psychological pain due to all of the above
To add insult to injury, “small” (a relative term, no?) and injured birds are “culled” on a regular basis, so as not to “waste” any additional resources on them. Many are just tossed into bins like so much garbage. Likewise, “breeding” hens and roosters undergo blackouts and starvation, and suffer aggression because of confinement and too-early sexual maturity. They also suffer many of the same physical disorders as do their offspring, since they too are bred for morbid obesity. Occasional mass “depopulations” due to avian influenza (BIRD FLU!) scares are actually funded by taxpayer dollars – and sometimes include suffocation by firefighting foam, which under normal circumstances, is a tool used to save lives, not snuff them out.
While it isn’t necessarily the focus of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, Davis also points to the negative impact that industrialized chicken egg and “meat” production has on public safety, human health and the environment. No doubt readers are already familiar with many of these; they include:
* workers exposed to unsanitary conditions, particularly sheds reeking of ammonia and other pollutants;
* the feeding of industry waste to farmed animals, possible transmitting communicable diseases from one or more individuals to others, and even potentially across species;
* the processing of diseased and injured animals into “meat” for human consumption;
* the overuse of antibiotics (e.g., as a preventive rather than a treatment, or in lieu of providing chickens with a healthier environment – and bodies – in which to live), leading to bacterial resistance/decreased antibiotic effectiveness, including in humans; and
* the leaching of toxic waste into the environment
As with most social problems, it’s oftentimes marginalized humans who bear the brunt of these inequities.
A young chick looks up to the sky.
CC image via Flickr user Arwen Twinkle.
Whether kept for eggs, meat or breeding purposes, a chicken’s fate on a farm – even so-called “humane,” “free-range,” and “organic” operations – is the same: an excruciating, early death, usually at the hands of an overworked, underpaid slaughterhouse worker.
The numbers are staggering:
Of the 10.5 billion animals slaughtered in 2006 in federally inspected [U.S.] facilities, 9,252,320,000 were chickens, turkeys, and ducks. Of these, 8,968,916,000 were chickens, including 8,837,755,000 chickens raised for meat. The remaining 131,161 chickens were “spent” fowl, including hens usd to produce eggs for human consumption, and roosters and hens used for breeding. (pp. 131-132)
The beginning of the end starts with the catch and transport of the doomed chickens to the slaughterhouse. Birds are chased, grabbed, thrown, kicked and otherwise manhandled as they are crammed into cages and packed onto trucks. Many chickens suffer broken bones during this ordeal, while others may freeze to death on the truck while it’s being filled – or succumb to the heat during hotter months. These problems only intensify during transport, as the changing conditions inside the truck result in more extreme temperatures, both high and low. Truck accident en route mean more injuries, fatalities and slow deaths by neglect.
What comes next – “dumping, shackling, ‘stunning,’ throat-cutting, bleeding, [and] scalding,” as Davis titles the section on slaughter – will bring tears to your eyes (and, along with the chapter on “laying” hens, gave me nightmares). Suffice it to say that a chicken’s death, much like her life, will not end quickly and with mercy. There’s much waiting around; waiting to die. Waiting while you breathing in the stench of death, pain and fear. The cacophony of one’s terrified neighbors and kin the only thing you hear; the final thing you hear.
“Stunning,” in which a chicken, shackled upside-down and by one leg to a conveyor belt, is “dipped” into an electrified, cold-water bath, is designed to paralyze the bird – not render him unconscious and unable to feel pain, contrary to popular belief. A chicken is awake and aware throughout the entire, hellish ordeal.
Spent “laying” hens sometimes even skip the “stunning” bath, as this could further damage their already frail bodies. Instead, they’re left to thrash in shackles, potentially causing injury to themselves. Other “laying” hens, not deemed “worthy” of the slaughterhouse, might be killed on-site, usually by gassing. As already mentioned, some animals are simply discarded: left to suffocate or be crushed to death in garbage bins; shredded, alive, in wood chippers; or electrocuted. 250 million of these unfortunate souls are newborns, considered worthless because of their male gender.
Nor are chickens the only birds tortured in this way; an estimated 2.3 billion ducks, 691 million turkeys, 533 million geese and 63 million pigeons were farmed and slaughtered worldwide in 2003. On Thanksgiving day alone, Americans consume the corpses of 48 million turkeys (up from 45 million in years past). Although chickens enslaved and exploited in U.S. animal agriculture operations are the focus of Davis’s investigation, as with “laying” hens, she briefly examines the plight of chickens and turkeys farmed for their flesh in Chapters 4 and 5.
True Whitaker spends quality time with the California turkeys at
Farm Sanctuary’s 2008 Celebration FOR the Turkeys.
To adopt a turkey this Thanksgiving, go to http://www.adoptaturkey.org.
Photo by Connie Pugh for Farm Sanctuary; all rights reserved.
At a crossroads (we’re always at a crossroads, it seems), we have but two choices: reject the objectification, exploitation and oppression of nonhuman animals, most notably by adopting a vegan diet – or continue down the road we’re on, finding newer and more sadistic ways to profit off the bodies of our fellow earthlings.
To anyone who’s watching, it’s clear where humanity is headed – namely, toward continued exploitation. On the one hand, we have “organic,” “free range” and “humane” egg, milks and meat producers, meant to lull concerned consumers into mindlessly accepting the delusion that enslavement and needless death can ever be anything but cruel and immoral. Here, Davis deftly refutes each of these labels in turn.
Perhaps scarier still are the frontiers currently being forged by agri-science: featherless chickens. De-winging and de-tailing live birds. The introduction of contact lenses to reduce “feed usage.” The breeding of blind chickens. Studies involving the insertion of inflated balloons, shell membranes and tampons into the uteri of hens (!).
Imagining the future of egg production, one engineer described a spectacle that seems ripped from the pages of a Margaret Atwood novel:
“Mature hens will be beheaded and hooked up en masse to industrial-scale versions of the heart-lung machines that brain-dead human beings need a court order to get unplugged from. Since the chickens won’t move, cages won’t be needed. Nutrients, hormones, and metabolic stimulants will be fed in superabundance into mechanically oxygenated blood to crank up egg production to three per day, maybe five or even ten.
“Since no digestive tracts will be needed, it can go when the head goes, along with the heart and lungs and the feathers, too. The naked, headless, gutless chicken will crank out eggs till its ovaries burn out. When a sensor senses that no egg has been dropped within the last four or six hours, the carcass will be released onto a conveyor, chopped, sliced, steamed, and made into soup, burgers, and dog food.” (p. 183)
[Excerpted from “The Future of Eggs” by Robert Burruss; published in The Baltimore Sun on December 29, 1993.]
Throughout Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, Davis argues passionately in favor of another future – a future in which we not only recognize but embrace the kinship we share with nonhuman animals. Vegetarianism isn’t enough; in Davis’s words, “milk and eggs are as much a part of an animal as meat is.” (p. 166). Veganism – not just in diet, but worldview as well – is the only way. One cannot profess to “love” animals while exploiting them. And we will never know peace until the killing – of even the “least” among us – stops.
A giant metal chicken, made out of old auto bumpers by Larry Godwin of ARTWORKS of Brundidge Al.
CC image via Flickr user whiteforge.
I received a review copy of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs in early 2010. While I read through it rather quickly – it’s an accessible, if disturbing book – this review has literally been six months in the making. Partially, this is because of the sheer volume of information that Davis manages to pack into just 183 short pages – I found it difficult to distill it all down to a short and pat review. Even more so than the amount of detail is its horrific quality; much of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs reads like something out of the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno.
Only…infinitely worse, because it’s real. It’s happening. Right this very moment, as you sit in your office perusing the ‘net during lunch break, or lounge in bed while a laptop and cat vie for precious lap space, hundreds of millions of “laying” hens remain trapped in their own filth: eyes burning, stomachs empty and cramping, feet aching, skeletons collapsing, hearts and minds crying out for relief, freedom – and their disappeared babies. These are our sisters, suffering; alone and not. For no reason other than that the products of their reproductive systems taste yummy to human palates.
Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs is an exquisitely difficult story to read. And yet, read we must. Davis gives voice to the billions of forsaken chickens that we Americans enslave, exploit, kill and dismember every year. (Even if you do not work in a slaughterhouse or own stock in Tyson, if you consume chickens or their eggs, then yes, you are directly complicit in the suffering described above.) She puts the chicks, roosters and – especially – hens front and center, daring the reader to live their shared experiences, if only vicariously.
Should you ever find yourself face-to-face with a rescued “battery” hen, dear reader, tell me this: will you be able to return her gaze without flinching?
One of many chickens I met on a recent trip to the farmed animal sanctuary
Cracker Box Palace in Alton, NY.
Davis, Karen. 2001. More than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality. Brooklyn, New York: Lantern Books.
(You can download this book as a free .pdf file here.)
United Poultry Concerns | http://www.upc-online.org
Many of Davis’s writings, including first editions and excerpts from published books, as well as a number of essays and poems, are available on United Poultry Concern’s website. As a former English professor, Davis’s writing is beautiful, lyrical and heart-wrenching – and tinged by a feminist sensibility that, too often, is missing from animal rights commentary. I can’t recommend her written work highly enough.
“Twisty the rescued egg-laying hen often preferred cat food kibble to chicken feed because her beak deformity made it difficult for her to pick up small bits of chicken food.”
CC image the HSUS on Flickr / Ariana Huemer of Oakland, California.
Last but not least, I’ve included a variety of egg- and meat-free recipes to demonstrate that a diet devoid of chicken suffering need not be considered a “sacrifice.”
Vegan Baking: Tips for Cooking Without Eggs by Mercy for Animals
Learn easy and healthy vegan substitutes for baking without eggs. See how common household ingredients such as bananas, tofu, flax seeds, and other foods can be used as alternatives to eggs in cookie, cake, muffin, and other baked good recipes.
Vegan Chicken Salad by OrganizeHappy
I really love this salad! 100% vegan mock chicken salad. I eat it with cucumbers or an avocado. If you are looking for a great vegan snack, lunch or dinner try this!
How to Make Vegan “Chicken” Scaloppini by Vegan San Diego
Inspired by Tal Ronnen’s book, A Conscious Cook
This book is great! We have no intention of stealing copyright or anything like that.
This is our attempt at the chicken scallopini with little moderation from the original recipe. * Will post our “cover” of this recipe soon! * Hope you enjoy it!
OUR FACEBOOK PAGE (with lots of our own recipes)
Basic Seitan | Country Chicken Fried Chicken | Vegan KFC Double Down by Joel Luks
Nothing says American country fare than chicken fried chicken. In this video, learn how to make basic seitan and two great variations including a vegan version of KFC’s Double Down. Think you are up to the challenge?
For more recipes visit: http://www.joelluks.com
Vegan Turkey Loaf by everdaydish
Chef Brian P. McCarthy shows how to prepare a vegan turkey loaf. Great any time of the year! Also good for sandwiches. Go to www.everydaydish.tv for the recipe. (Direct link)