The other day my husband made me watch a random documentary available for instant viewing on Netflix about chicken(s).
It started on a happy note, showing how chickens live on small farms. People apparently become very attached to their avian friends, cooing to them lovingly, holding and petting them like little lap cats. This one old woman even gave a hen of hers mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after she got caught in a sudden snow while brooding in the small wood around the farm. The poor hen froze to what seemed like death, but the old woman thawed her out and breathed life back into her. I really hope she only uses her hens to lay eggs. It would really be a shame to slaughter someone whose beak you've pressed against your lips in a gesture of ultimate love.
Other stories included strange men who had unhealthy attractions to cocks... As in roosters, you sickos! They would raise prize fighting roosters, clearly to compensate for some lack in manliness on their part, but unable to afford a luxury vehicle to replace this cock obssession... It struck me as very peculiar that these unattractively mustached men doted on their cocks to distraction, raising them like their own children, showing them plenty of affection... only to send them into a violent, bloody, untimely death.
The saddest of all, though, were the factory chickens. It showed lonely rows of eggs in giant rotating incubators. Then the baby chickens would begin to hatch, in an empty metallic space, surrounded by what must appear to them to be a sea of other baby chicks, but with no mother hens in sight. Then the conveyer belt would send them, scambling over one another, down a chute to a sorting facility, where hair-netted ladies would grab the babies by whatever appendage was handy and pluck them out of the steadily pouring stream of fuzzy yellow life, and throw them into one of several bins or piles, like they were mere objects being readied for packaging. By what criteria they were sorted, I cannot even begin to imagine. All the chicks looked fragile, and yellow, and tiny, and squeaked incessantly. But the factory workers just grabbed them and threw them according to some pre-established order, no doubt mangling and maiming them in the process. Then it showed the sad, pale, confused adult chickens in the factory, sitting atop one another, scrambling for air, for food, for comfort, for anything that didn't feel like raw panic. An endless sea of struggling, suffering, debased creatures - they reminded me most of the pale skeletal ghosts of people in Nazi concentration camps: forlorn, betrayed, alive, but just barely.
There was more to the film, but I had to stop there. The tears started to choke me. The idea that this is the way food is produced for mass consumption is sickening to me. I got into the habit of saying that I gave up eating meat mainly for health reasons. People tend to react to that in a positive, encouraging manner. Caring about one's health is admirable. Not eating meat for moral reasons, however, provokes hostility. Forced to examine the moral correctness of eating their precious McNuggets or rotisserie roaster, people get defensive. It's hard to imagine that something so delicious can be a sentient, noble being. Being a coward, I would learn to shy away from total honesty, and just stick to my health story. Now I feel a bit more compelled to be perfectly candid and tell people I encounter that not only is eating meat unhealthy, but that under current conditions, it amounts to endorsing mass genocide of the most wasteful kind.
The bill passed in California providing for more rights for factory chickens is definitely a step in the right direction, but I still can't help but feel that somewhere down the road we went totally awry in how we deal with our food. Killing animals for food has been an integral part of human evolution, but we never used to care so little about doing it.
6 months ago