Free Range Justice

Chicken stare.jpg

I want to take a few minutes today to talk about social justice and chickens.  Yeah, that's right, I said chickens!  When I talk about social justice, the focus is always on one species, the human kind.  But it is estimated that we share this planet with 8.7 million other species.  So for just a moment let's demote ourselves from being the center of the world of living things.  In doing so, we might just learn something about ourselves and how we can be more kind to, well, everyting.

embracing my poultry roots


I was born in the town of Petaluma, California.  In fact, my family on my mom's side goes back four generations in this town located approximately forty miles north of San Francisco.  Nowadays it is more of a bedroom community, but it used to have the legendary reputation as the "egg basket of the world", at one point producing 10 million eggs a year.  Unlike my mom, uncle, grandparents and other Nissen relatives who lived in Petaluma and the surrounding Sonoma County communities during it's golden age as the capital of domestic fowl, this town had largely begun its transformation to a commuter suburb by the time I entered the world at the now bygone Hillcrest Hospital.  And I actually was just born there and then brought home to the very suburban city of San Rafael to its south.  Petaluma was the cool place we would occasionally drive to visit my grandparents and their small farm that sported a few chickens but mostly fruits and vegetables.  All that to say that I was not exposed to the grim realities of farm life like my ancestors.  Whether it was butter, eggs, milk or beef and chicken meat, I just saw the 'end product' down at the local grocery store.  As with all of us who live far away from the livestock that produce the food and liquids we depend upon, we don't have any real sense of their existence other than perhaps the novelty of a petting zoo at the county fair.

I'm still a CARNIVORE but...

Now some of you who do not know me might be thinking that I'm leading up to a moral call to embrace a vegan lifestyle.  Let me assure you, I am currently a carnivore, though I will say that the more I give this thought the more respect I have for those who have made this dietary commitment.  But if you are not there yet like me, I wonder if we can at least take a step back from our suburban bliss and consider some unpleasant realities.

You see, while there were no barns and roaming chickens in my neighborhood growing up, we did have other living creatures.  Our family had dogs, cats, goldfish, hamsters, hermit crabs and a parakeet or two.  And I remember how I felt as a young boy when any of them would get hurt or sick and how heartbroken I was when, for example, our long-time fury family member, a black Lab named Duke, took that last, slow walk down a hallway at the local humane society.  And while obviously none of these pets are considered culturally as a source of food, I remember even my mom sharing stories about how she and her older brother grew fond of animals on the farm who almost certainly would end up on the kitchen plate.  Even then, they had names and were treated with loving care.

I don't want to know

I think it can be safely said that when it comes to most Americans and the food we consume, we have one unspoken thought about the process it took for that sustenance to end up in our mouth: "I don't want to know."  The assumption behind that is that if we did know it would probably spoil our enjoyment of whatever it was we were trying to stuff down our throat at the time.   So our willful ignorance preserves our culinary bliss.  Here is where I could share with you a bunch of articles and videos on how chickens are treated in the mass production of eggs.  But you can easily do that research in just a few minutes on Google or YouTube.  Let's just say it is disgustingly cruel and without a doubt will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth next time you reach for a carton in the fridge.

a better way: introducing 'Bullsh*t Free Eggs'

I have a theory that when we devalue any living thing it places us on the slippery slope of devaluing all living things.  The end result is a culture that is numb to cruelty and where 'the end justifies the means'.  Conversely, we can begin to rebuild a sense of basic compassion and value for all life by starting with something as simple as the chickens that make us eggs.  That's where I would love to introduce you to the good people at Vital Farms.

conclusion and next steps

In conclusion, the manner in which us humans treat other living creatures, and ultimately the entire physical environment our survival depends upon, says something about our own nature.  And while it might seem a far cry from addressing some of the grave injustices we commit against our fellow human beings, perhaps in learning to treat kindly our feathered friends we might learn to act the same way towards one another. 

So let's say you agree with me that we should value every living thing and want them to enjoy the quality of life nature intended them to enjoy.  How can we start to apply this when it comes to those cool little bock-bockers who give us delicious eggs to eat?  Well in an earlier piece I introduced one of the most effective tools for achieving social reform--that is, our wallet.  Let me suggest that one place we can start might be in choosing to buy some eggs from a company like Vital Farms next time we are at the grocery store.  Now this is where the rubber meets the road and our American addiction to cheapness will be challenged.  But isn't getting a little bit of our soul back worth the few extra bucks we will spend next time we pick up a carton of eggs?  If it isn't then with no disrespect to another animal we depend on, I only have one more thing to say: that's bullsh*t!