One of the many happy scenes of life on the farm ingrained on us since childhood. The reality: that it's a myth on par with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Yet long after we learn the truth about Kris Kringle, we continue believing in the farm animal myth for life. Why?
In the film Leap Year, Amy Adams and Matthew Goode are at an idyllic bed & breakfast in Ireland. In the garden, Goode takes one of the chickens strolling about and breaks its neck, much to the shock of Adams. He asks where she thinks her chicken comes from. Adams says the freezer case, and lets out a nervous laugh.
Now to real life: in my French class, a student brings back culinary souvenirs from her travels to France, including a can of foie gras. "Doesn't it bother you how it's produced?" I asked. The reply, "No, not really. I've seen the ducks and geese and it looks like they have very nice lives." I have a good idea of where she got this impression. A Rick Steves travel show, in which he visits a foie gras farm in the Dordogne region. The owner gives a "family-friendly" tour and says the ducks and geese eat a large supply naturally for their long migrations. If so, I wonder, why are the long metal pipes needed to shove the food down their throat? Why would "force feeding" be needed at all? How would the owner know it doesn't bother them? Maybe she should have a metal pipe forcing food down her throat as an experiment. Kate Winslet narrated a not-so-family-friendly look at foie gras farms.
This classmate also said "I try not to think about where my hamburger comes from." Amy Adams-style nervous laughter followed.
The Frugal Girl documents her food waste weekly, and one post focused on chicken. One commenter bemoaned, "I think it is so terrible when meat is wasted. These animals were living breathing creatures, often having lived their short miserable lives confined in cages. For me, it feels so disrespectful to have them slaughtered only to be thrown in the trash." I couldn't agree more.
To which someone replied, "the animal was dead b4 you bought it. i don't think it has any feelings on the subject. it's not sitting up in "chicken heaven"saying "what you threw me in the garbage?" LOL. i agree that sometimes their lives aren't very nice but that has nothing to do with the person eating them, but the people raising them."
Personally, I'm not LOL, and I think it has very much to do with the people eating them. Do people really think they can wash their hands morally because they are not doing the dirty work themselves? Their sense of entitlement, particularly among people who insist on meat, milk or eggs at every single meal at the cheapest prices available, is the very root of the problems. The Frugal Girl may be "cheerfully living on less," but the animals she eats aren't living so cheerfully.
Is there a chicken heaven? I hope so, because for them, it's hell on earth.
According to the Humane Society,
"Nearly all animals killed for food in the U.S. are chickens and turkeys—more than nine billion each year. They're shackled upside down, paralyzed by electrified water and dragged over mechanical throat-cutting blades...all while conscious. Millions of birds each year miss the blades and drown in tanks of scalding water. This occurs because the U.S. Department of Agriculture exempts birds from its enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that farm animals be insensible to pain before they're shackled and killed."
If animals had the life of the chicken in Leap Year - freedom in the countryside and a quick death, eating animals might not seem so horrific. But today's farm animals have no freedom whatsoever. How natural it is to eat animals is up for debate. What is against nature to me is bringing them in the world to endure - not to enjoy life whatsoever. Never a dust bath for a chicken, never a frolic in the hay for a pig, no time to bond between mother cow and calf. People who run factory farms aren't worthy of the term "farmer." They are businessmen. The do not cultivate life, they suppress it.
People feign ignorance, but more often, it's denial. Whether ignorant or in denial - a population in either state is easy to control, much to the delight of people who wish to profit off of them.
The psychology of our thinking toward food is fascinating. Why, for instance, are we so disgusted by tap water, but it's not disgusting to regularly eat drugged up chickens, cows and pigs raised in factory farms that have been wriggling around in their own feces? I think of a line in Philip Hensher's The Northern Clemency in which one character observes of another, "she had shaped reality to suit her." Denying extreme cruelty, the use of growth hormones and antibiotics, the effects on workers and the environment doesn't deny the reality just because it doesn't suit one to think about it, and people shouldn't shift the blame onto the producers and say those who eat it have "nothing" to do with it.
Think local food is the answer? An article in The New York Times, "Push to Eat Local Food Is Hampered by Shortage" did a reality check: "Independent farmers around the country say they are forced to make slaughter appointments before animals are born and to drive hundreds of miles to facilities...causing stress to livestock." Know a local butcher? Ask where the animals are raised, and where they are slaughtered.
The Times went on to note, "As the locavore movement and self-butchering movements grow, so do cries of 'Not in my backyard.'"
Most seem to want cheap food, but hands up anyone who wants an industrial sized pig, cow or chicken operation in their backyard? How about doing the job yourself? Would you want to collect the eggs for those 99 cents a dozen cartons yourself in a shed with thousands of chickens stacked in metal cages? No, it's someone else's dirty work, someone else's polluted waterways, someone else's suffering.
Do I still hear nervous laughter?
"I just wanna feel what life should be.
I just want enough space to turn around.
Someday maybe you'll treat me like you." - Free Me, Goldfinger
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