Politics & Policy

Speaking Up for Poultry

(Bas Meelker/Dreamstime)
If eating eggs is just like infanticide, why leap over the whole actual infanticide part of modern society?

If you’ve seen this, watch it again, just to marvel at the setup. If not, set a stopwatch to see exactly when your feelings of confusion, sympathy, and concern turn suddenly into a short bark of scorn.

You don’t want to criticize anyone who gets emotionally distraught by the sight of scrambled eggs. It would seem to be its own punishment. It you are compelled to interrupt strangers’ meals and cry literally over spilled milk, life is hard in a way most of us will never understand. Misery and evil are everywhere, and it’s all you can do to keep from chaining yourself to the cooler where the eggs are stored and hissing “How would you like it if someone ate your eggs?” at every woman who tried to get a dozen jumbos. You could say the speaker has father issues, but only if her dad was Foghorn Leghorn.

She also identifies the chicken known now as “Snow” as “her little girl,” which suggests that she does not have (a) perspective and (b) an actual little girl. If she does, and the actual little girl has grown up hearing a chicken referred to as “your feather sister,” spare some sympathy for her as well.

I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time with chickens, but we’re not totally unacquainted. I have judged chickens at the Minnesota state fair; I have spent much time observing the various breeds, their plumage, their raucous caws, their bright and uncomprehending eyes. At the family farm, I would follow Grandma to get eggs and strew feed, and every time she walked into the coop you’d think a wolf had entered — a five-and-a-half-foot-tall grey-haired wolf in disguise, just like in the Little Red Riding Hood story. The place exploded in panic as the birds jumped up and crashed into each other. Feathers like confetti for an astronaut parade. Every time. Never sunk in that this happened yesterday, too. 

Like I said, I’m no expert. I can’t say whether they’re smart like crows, who can figure things out. There are movies online of crows using tools to solve problems; give them an iPhone and some time and they can probably access your online-banking account. And don’t think they wouldn’t. Crows are the hackers of the avian world. Chickens? In terms of intellectual candlepower, they make a Christmas-tree ornament look like a movie-premiere searchlight.

This doesn’t mean I think they should be shot from cannons and harpooned by jaded millionaires looking for a new hobby. Or made to fight each other with razors tied to their legs. Or forced to listen to Barbra Streisand give speeches on international events. We would all like to think that chickens have nice lives running around playing chicken games like . . . I don’t know, chicken, but we all know that they endure a constrained existence in stinky bins with a million inmates shrieking a hellish din.

We have made our peace with this because they are not girls and boys.

If someone wants to move the culture toward more humane treatment of chickens, they need to know a few things.

1. Yelling at strangers that their egg-salad sandwich is the moral equivalent of supporting Third World underage sex slavery might not be as persuasive as you think. What’s more, if egg consumption is the equivalent of infanticide, people might wonder why you just sorta leaped over the whole actual infanticide part of modern society and went straight to weeping conspicuously over unborn birds.

2. The statement “It’s not Food. It’s Violence” is like saying “It’s not Wood. It’s Chopping” to protest deforestation. Obviously it is food. No one ever asks their coworkers, “What do you want to violent today? Chinese violence? Indian violence? Or just grab a quick melee at the Violence Truck?”

3. One of the Direct Action Everywhere videos tells the tale of a rescued chicken named Peanut Butter. Note: Peanut Butter is delicious.

4. Another video concerns a loud protest at a Chipotle. Note how everyone behaves the same way they would act if someone unfurled a banner showing a blown-up picture of a plankton you have named “Planky” and demanded that whales switch to a grain-based diet. (Non-GMO, of course.) Several of the customers were wondering if you were going to detonate a suicide vest after shouting Allahu Cluckbar.

5. When you show pictures of cute pigs to Chipotle diners, you are not blowing the minds of people who think the pork carnitas came from a plant pollinated by pink bees with curly tails. Everyone knows where pork comes from. Everyone knows piglets are cute. But you are up against a culture that will watch cute-pig videos while drinking bacon-flavored vodka and define the experience as “the Circle of Life.”

6. Ask yourself if you would advocate for pigs if they had compound eyes on segmented stalks, scuttled sideways on six legs, had sharp mandibles they used to tear apart their preferred prey —  which was chickens — and excreted a corrosive musk when rutting. I think there’d be an organizational decision to move the topic to beef.

7. Another video describes how you “shut down” a Chipotle because your protests showed they have something to hide. Yes, that’s how it works. Some people come in the store and start yelling, and the manager phones the home office: “They’re on to us! Chickens are the moral equivalent of human children! What do I do?” Actually, you just made pests of yourselves on private property, confident the manager would not come out from behind the grill with a sock filled with BBs and start swinging. This is also the reason you do not go to a Texas BBQ festival and start kicking over smokers. You are counting on the basic decency of people you believe are murderers of Chicken Girls.

8. If anyone in your organization is contemplating a video in which a chicken is about to be beheaded in the desert by someone wearing ISIS garb, just to show how the two are morally equivalent — please. Please.

By which I mean, put that up as fast as you can.

— James Lileks is a columnist for National Review Online.

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