[Ed. Note: Read
Just A Chicken By Chicklett, The Baby
By Karen Davis, PhD,
United Poultry Concerns (UPC)
Initiating children into society through rituals of animal slaughter is
traditional in rural communities and in towns where rites from a rural past are
retained. Where I grew up, in Altoona, PA, schools were closed on the first day
of hunting season – they still are – so boys could “go huntin’” with their
uncles and dads. On the farm, 4-H projects initiate children into the
“realities” of life, and a farm boy or girl must learn the rituals of conduct
and speech fitted to these occasions. In 4-H, a child is given a young animal to
raise. When the animal is grown, the child enters him or her in an agricultural
fair to compete for a prize, after which the animal is auctioned and hauled off
to slaughter. Competing for a prize and auction money helps divert the child’s
emotions from the harm impending to the animal who has been innocently raised.
The 4-H experience culminates in sacrificing the animal in a ritual meant to
maintain the agricultural way of life. It also involves sacrifice of the child’s
feelings of tenderness and love for the animal.
A 4-H participant goes typically from a condition of happy innocence to grief
and tears, leading to final acceptance of the “necessity” of these sacrifices.
Within a few years, the soul of the youngster who wept over his or her first
cow, pig, or sheep has effectively been slain. The young adult may thereafter
participate in raising animals for slaughter by the hundreds, thousands, or even
tens of thousands.
Occasionally a child refuses to submit to the sacrificial process, which
leads to consideration of a class activity called the Chicken Project (or
“Broiler Project”), which has been conducted in some schools in recent years,
and which United Poultry Concerns is actively working to prevent.
In the Chicken Project, the school purchases 20 or so baby “broiler” chicks
from an industrial hatchery for students to raise for six week and then kill,
under the guidance of their teacher. Following the slaughter, the remains are
consumed at a school banquet. Any raw or residual grief or awful memories the
students might have about killing their chickens, watching them suffer and die
in buckets of blood, is absorbed into a festival of food and manufactured
“pride” that the teacher and school officials tell the students they should feel
as a result of having “raised their own food” instead of purchasing
“factory-farmed meat” at the supermarket.
In some cases, the Chicken Project adapts the traditional 4-H experience to a
more recent trend known as the “locavore movement.” Based on the idea that
people should consume only food that is grown or slaughtered locally, to reduce
the environmental cost of long-distance food transport, the locavore movement is
also about eating “clean,” preferably organic food, as opposed to the “unclean,”
chemically embalmed garbage of factory farming.
Factory farming is decried, but what has come to define and energize the
locavore movement above all is the argument crystalized by Michael Pollan in The
Omnivore’s Dilemma, that while industrial animal production is nasty and cruel,
human beings are designed to eat animals, so slaughtering one’s own animals, or
buying slaughtered meat from local, allegedly “sustainable” and “humane” farms,
is the most reasonable and ethical solution. Thus, while a high school Chicken
Project inspired by locavorism may include a vegetable garden and related
assignments as part of a Food Unit, the course is weighted with the idea that
the most important and “realistic” food choices are between “factory-farmed
meat” and “meat” you kill yourself, or as nearly as possible. Whether the
project is part of a traditional Animal Science course, or a trendy Food Unit,
the official rationalization in both cases is that raising and slaughtering
their own chickens benefits students with a “real life” lesson on “where their
food comes from.”