When Our Animal Friends Eventually Become Our Food

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When Our Animal Friends Eventually Become Our Food

[Ed. Note: Wonderful poems for you about "animals" as food: Who's On Your Plate?, Three Little Pigs. For more, visit Animal Rights Poetry.]

By Erica Settino on This Dish Is Veg
March 2011

As a child, much as I do now, I loved to read. Looking back, it is no wonder that my favorite books were ones that revolved around animals like Babar, The Berenstain Bears and Curious George. I reveled in the sweet stories and vivid pictures that depicted animals living as individuals with complex lives and emotions. Idyllic settings and situations played out on the page leaving me with a sense of wonder and relation to the animals themselves.

As far back as I can remember animals were a primary focus in my childhood, used to illicit excitement and association of images, words and sounds. Questioned by my parents and teachers, “What sound does the dog make,” or “What does the cow say,” each would celebrate as I bellowed the correct response and pointed to the smiling face of the corresponding animal on the page in the book that lay open upon my lap. I would intently study the pictures, imagining myself on Old MacDonald’s Farm living with each of the animals I held so dear. I even dreamed about it.

It wasn’t until much later that I began to realize my very distorted view of the lives of the animals depicted in my books and stories. Never offered the truth in regard to the food on my plate, I like so many other children, remained ignorant to the reality of what, or more accurately whom I was eating, how they came to be called dinner, and to the severe consequences of my and my parent’s ignorance. As I grew, gaining independence, many choices that had once been made for me became my own. With that freedom came my choice to practice vegetarianism, eventually leading to the decision to become vegan. No longer ignoring the aversion I had towards eating animals of any kind, I removed them from my diet and immediately felt lighter. I realized that with each animal I allowed myself to eat, I had been swallowing and internalizing his or her pain and suffering and along with it, my own guilt.

Once a vegetarian, countless people who had yet to, and to this day still have not, made the same connection to animals as I have, questioned my reasons for not eating specifically, chicken and fish. On some level they seemed to be able to wrap their minds around not wanting to eat cows and pigs, although they continue to consume these sentient beings on a regular basis, but chicken and fish they just could not understand. Mind you, these are intelligent, kind people who for some reason, like so many others, have allowed themselves the luxury of ignorance where animal cruelty and suffering is concerned. The ignorance is the culprit and with that in mind, education is the key.

Scientists have discovered that chickens are capable of feeling empathy. These once assumed stupid and useless animals (except of course for their meat and eggs), are being quoted as “possessing a fundamental capacity to empathize, or be affected by the emotional state of another.” The scientists note that, “this discovery has important implications for the welfare of farm and laboratory animals.” Those individuals and groups who have rescued and worked with chickens from the horrors of factory farming have long reported and demonstrated the individuality of each chicken, as well as the relationships they form, and their numerous displays of empathy. These intelligent, living, breathing, and feeling beings endure torture and torment that most humans would not survive, in order to produce the billions of eggs in demand across the country and around the world.

At only a few days old each laying hen goes through the process of being de-beaked, in which a large portion of her beak is cut off without anesthetic, using a scalding hot blade. Often unable to eat because of the severity of the pain, many birds die a long painful death, from dehydration and weakened immune systems. The purpose of removing the beaks is so that these naturally peaceful, sweet hens can be forced into 18 by 20 inch wire cages, known in factory farming as battery cages, with up to ten other hens, which results in each hen fighting for air and space. To reduce the damage they inflict upon each other, their beaks are removed.

Here these hens, each with a 32-inch wingspan, live for the rest of their very unnatural lives, forced to urinate and defecate on each other. Never experiencing the feeling of grass beneath their feet or natural sunlight, the hens are kept in sheds where the light and their diets are manipulated in order to produce optimal egg laying conditions. After approximately two years of nonstop pain and torment, their bodies are so physically devastated that they are unable to produce any more eggs and are sent to slaughter where their feet are shackled to the ceiling, their throats are cut and they bleed to death. Most often their flesh is so diseased from their abhorrent living conditions that their meat can only be used in chicken soup or companion animal food.

Male chicks are of no use to the egg industry. Every year millions of newborn male chicks are thrown into trash bags to suffocate or high-speed grinders, all while they are still alive. Babies who would naturally and instinctively remain with their mothers are garbage in the eyes of the USDA.

And while on the subject of the USDA, don’t be fooled by their propaganda and promotion of cage-free hens either. Egg laying hens in cage free operations are typically crowded by the thousands in large barns, with approximately one square foot of space per each bird. They are not required access to the outdoors and often never experience the “roaming” that is advertised and intended to mislead and fool the general public. These hens still endure the pain and terror of debeaking, and all hens are destined for slaughter.

Nowhere in these situations do I find even a semblance of the happy animals on MacDonald’s Farm I grew up adoring. And in no way will I participate in such atrocities amongst other living beings, no matter their distinctions. I am often asked if chickens were treated better would I eat eggs. The answer remains no. What we have strayed so far from in our greed is our ability to see right and wrong. The eggs aren’t ours to take. Cow’s milk isn’t ours to drink and sheep’s wool is not ours to wear. No matter how humanely we treat others, we still do not have the right to take from them what does not belong to us. I learned that many years ago, just as I learned that cows say moo and dogs say woof.