Yes, I gave away the message of this post in the title, so if you’re not ready to learn some tough stuff, read no further – just trust me and quit. eating. chicken! (Of course in my ideal world industrial animal farms would become obsolete, but we must begin somewhere, right?)
And let me be specific; I’m not talking about chickens raised sustainably and humanely and happily by your local farmer or friend; I’m discussing the 7+ billion “broiler” chickens raised on industrial farms per year, that are, arguably, the most abused, unhealthy animals in our food system. Delivered to dark, windowless, filthy chicken houses at one day old, they only see the light of day on their first and last day of life as they are transferred to a slaughterhouse. They suffer greatly, jammed together with 30,000 other chickens and being continuously stuffed full of antibiotics, hormones, and whatever feed rapidly fattens them up, including old cookies and crackers covered in fat and sometimes even waste from chicken slaughterhouses.
The over 450 million “laying hens” have it no better, living out their days in dirty cramped cages with their beaks seared off so they cannot peck at one another. Male chicks, numbering up to 100 million per year, are of no use to an industry that cannot use them for laying eggs or their meat, so they are simply thrown away to suffocate or (worse?) ground up alive. How can we stop this? Refuse to buy anything but pasture-raised, organic eggs. Even better, raise your own chickens or get eggs from a friend.
All chickens are descendants of a gorgeous, flying, wild bird in Thailand called the red jungle fowl. Although scientists consider chickens to be as intelligent and inquisitive as cats and dogs, there is not one federal law that protects them from constant abuse.
So how in the world did we get here? During the early part of the twentieth century, chicken meat was provided by hens who had grown too old to lay eggs and had lived for up to six years. Chickens were usually sold whole, but this changed during the 1960s, when chicken producers realized they could make much more money by “recycling” damaged carcasses rather than just discarding them. An absolute game-changer occurred in 1983 with the introduction of the Chicken McNugget, a seemingly healthier option (NOT) at a time when our FDA was pushing chicken as preferable to red meat. Within one month McDonald’s became the nation’s second largest buyer of chickens (after KFC). There was even a new breed of huge-breasted chickens developed–known as Mr. McDonald. Today, broiler chickens live just over six weeks and have been unnaturally re-engineered to grow obscenely huge, to six times their natural size. To put this in perspective, if you’re a woman of medium build and weigh 130 pounds, you’d weigh over 800 pounds; a man of 160 pounds would weigh a mere 1000 pounds. Our legs would give out, too, or we’d keel over from a heart attack at a very young age, as many chickens do, their hearts coated in a layer of fat.
The McNugget changed the entire way chicken were raised in this country and officially separated the egg and chicken meat industries. Four companies control over half the market today for chicken meat, but they only deliver and collect the chickens to be processed, they leave the the work of raising the chickens to contract farmers in the rural South. Many of these farmers hoped to remain independent but have instead – overwhelmingly – fallen deep into debt. They make on average $12,000 per year. Workers at the fast-paced slaughterhouses, poorly paid and lacking benefits, have at times admitted to abusing chickens or not stunning them properly before they are boiled. After the chickens are eviscerated they are thrown into a large vat of cold water with thousands of other birds; workers refer to this as “fecal soup” for obvious reasons, but producers keep the system going because more liquid absorbed leads to heavier weights and a larger price tag at the store.
Industrial chicken farming is a nasty, cruel business. If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thank you — I know this is difficult information, but I sincerely believe knowledge is power and that we can each make a significant difference by influencing our own circle of peeps.