Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs (Karen Davis, 2009): A vegan feminist book review, with recipes!

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Bizarro - Thanksgiving-Christmas

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.
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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?]

Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs by Karen Davis (2009)

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?

(More below the fold…)

A hen is a mink is a dog is a boy.* Also: site updates and intersectionality links!

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

“Mother hen”: Resting in the grass, a mother hen carries/camouflages four+ chicks under her wings. CC image via topinambour on Flickr.
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Along with The Simple Little Vegan Dog Book, the Book Publishing Company sent me a copy of Karen Davis’s Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, which I’ve had my eye on for some time now. (The book is now in its second edition; you can download the first ed. for free as a .pdf file here, via United Poultry Concerns.) With five out of six chapters down, I’m not yet ready to offer a review, but I will say that it’s excellent – a must read, and a difficult one, at that. Not difficult intellectually, but emotionally: battery and broiler farms are the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno come to life. You will need to read this book from the bottom of a dog pile – soft fur and warm bellies were the only things to keep me from breaking down in tears some nights. The scale and depth of suffering is simply unfathomable.

Anyhow, whether intentionally or not, Davis writes quite a bit about issues of intersectionality in Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. The gendered nature of egg production is an obvious topic, but the shared suffering does not stop there. For example, Davis explains what becomes of “spent” laying hens – that is, hens whose bodies are (prematurely, tragically, needlessly) depleted of calcium and other nutrients, such that they’re no longer capable of laying eggs. Their fate is a gruesome one, however, it’s only one link in a long chain of abominations:

At slaughter, spent laying hens are a mass of broken bones, abscesses oozing yellow fluids, bright red bruises, internal hemorrhaging, and malignant tumors. They’ve lost 40 percent or more of their feathers, and because they are economically “worthless,” they sit in transport cages in all weathers at the slaughterhouse “until all other birds are dealt with – up to 12 hours.” The slaughtered birds are shredded into products that hide the true state of their flesh and their lives: 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. **

In order to mask the abuses inflicted upon the bodies and psyches of egg-laying hens, the industry dismembers – nay, grinds – them into unrecognizable bits. These bits are then fed to the most vulnerable among us: enslaved and exploited nonhuman animals, including the dead hens’ kin; “pets,” including dogs and cats; children who attend public schools, particularly those who rely on the school lunch system; “institutionalized food service and government purchase programs,” such as those that “feed” incarcerated men and women; and working-class and impoverished Americans, whose only access to food may come in the form of fast food joints. One injustice fuels the next, with no end in sight. (Sigh. Where’s that dog pile?!)

(More below the fold…)