Alienation of animals

Alienation of animals

Recently, I was in Australia speaking on the very serious illness of human alienation. I was brought up short when a listener brought to my attention the effects of alienation on the animal world.

He informed us of the world of the “battery” or factory chicken. The humble hen has been part of my life for a long time. How many eggs did my good mother crack to make home made pasta. Food brings back great memories. In the 30’s, we were brought up on a two day meat menu. One day it was spare ribs and the other day was chicken. Spare ribs was the poor man’s meal, at least, till Chinese cooking bought up all the spare ribs in town. Chicken remained the “numero uno”.

I grew up before the freezer and even the refrigerator. So frozen chickens did not exist and my village reared parents refused to eat already killed chickens. The selection took place at the local market. My parents would spot a chicken that
attracted their eye. They picked it up, poked and felt its flesh, bought it, stuffed it alive in a paper bag, tied it around the neck of the chicken with only its head showing. It was brought home to face “capital punishment” for a crime that it had never committed.

Shopping was usually Saturday morning. Mother along with her friends would board the tram car to the market and return on the tram a few hours later. I remember a woman getting on the tram with a chicken in the bag. The tram was
bulging with passengers. Most of them were Anglos coming home from their offices (then the five and half day was the work week).

The chicken started to wail as it seemed to know what was in store for it. Suddenly, the wailing stopped but the chicken was able to escape the confines of the bag and started flapping around the tram with the woman chasing it calling it all kinds of name in her native dialect.

The Anglos started to get out of the way and screaming and dodging the woman
chasing her Sunday dinner. A scene that should be retained for a movie.

My godmother was the expert in dispatching chickens. A sudden move of a kitchen drawer over the neck of the chicken and the first step towards the oven was taken. On feast days, she would prepare “coq au vin” in her own way. A few hours before its appointment with death, my Godmother would open up the beak of the rooster, insert an eye dropper full of good scotch down the gullet of the chicken.

After a few shots, the rooster was nearly out of it. We could tell that he had enough when it tried to crow but the crow broke in the middle of the attempted song. Even a rooster has the right to die happy. But then, how heavenly was the relaxed and Scotch flavoured flesh. It was a meal for a king.

Another story on the importance of chickens. My mother had seven children all delivered at home. Every time a new birth came, the neighbours would bring live chickens as a gift. We had a small back yard and for a few weeks, chickens were pecking away. Every day, one ended up being transformed into fresh chicken
soup for the mother which then according to peasant “truth” it was transformed once again into breast milk for the baby.

You can understand my dismay when my wife returned from a nine day stay in roman clinic bringing my first son into the world, and found four live chickens in the kitchen of our fourth floor city apartment in Rome.

Village culture had moved into the city. Luckily, my cousin from the village helped in dispatching and the transformation of the chicken into breast milk. All this to say that chickens are part and parcel of my life.

True we have come a long way since then but the question still haunts me, what have we done to the chickens. The old reliable chicken of my day pecking way at the good earth, very much like the peasant has become urbanized into a “battery” or a “factory chicken”. The happy freedom of the barnyard has been replaced by a cage.

About five hens are crushed together with little room to move. The hens in desperation strike out pecking at anything available and as it is another chicken to avoid this cannibalism, the owners of these new slaves have developed a system of “de-beaking” the bird. This is a very painful procedure. The hen’s top beak is sliced off with a very hot blade. Many die from the shock of this procedure.

When egg production starts to falter. No eggs, no food and very little water. This forced molting shocks the hens into losing their feather and start on a new laying circle. Again many do not make it through this torture.

What happens to the roosters who do not produce eggs, roostercide is their end. At a very tender age before they can even crow once, they are placed in a plastic bag and the lack of oxygen does the rest. Veterinary care is non-existent. They would only get in the way of efficiency. To keep the hens healthy, various insecticides are mixed with their food.

The bonding of the chickens with the farmer is no longer possible. The small chicken farmer has gone the way of all smallness which has now become big (big is beautiful). Over 90% of the egg market in North America is now under the control of huge agribusinesses. A company could “egg” 4 million hens with
about 12 workers.

What can one do is stop this stampede to madness. We could stop eating eggs but if one does insist on eating eggs then we should start buying frown eggs. There is a good chance that brown eggs are still coming from small farmers. If it is a white egg, you can be pretty sure that its comes from a factory chicken.

Hens that are allowed a healthy diet and are able to go out for their regular
morning stroll “down the barnyard avenue” will surely produce better eggs than the chicken slaves. Also the happiness of the chicken allowed to be itself will in its death produce a much more healthy chicken soup.

But if alienated people cannot love themselves, how can he come to love chickens?

Romeo Maione

April 1984