Rethinking the Easter Egg

By Ingrid Newkirk

The week before the venerable Easter bunny hops down the lane this year,

Americans will purchase a whopping billion and a half eggs, give or take a

few hundred thousand. That’s double the number of any other week of the year

and a staggering amount of cholesterol – enough to make us rethink the

emphasis on the boiled egg for this holiday.

You might want to consider giving up the bird flesh, too.

In 2000, Americans ate a mind-boggling nine billion

birds, about one million chickens an hour. In some parts of the world, the

feet and eyeballs are roasted but, here in America, we shun those parts and

grind them back into chicken feed. We like to guzzle the gizzards, lunch on

the liver, and bury our chops in the wings and thighs. Most of all, we are

breast men and women. Of course, since chickens are fed the bits we reject,

including their combs and wattles and face parts, in the end our recycling

means that the bits consumers find horrid are integrated back into the body

parts consumers buy.

Recently, a woman in Hampton, Virginia, made headlines when she opened

her cardboard box of fast-food chicken and found, inside, a little hen’s

head, cut off

at the neck, covered in batter, eyes closed. This was a “laying hen,” and

the acceptable bits of “spent hens” like her, those whose output has

declined, usually end up as parts and in soup. The hen’s beak was blunt. It

had been severed to stop her from injuring the five to nine other hens

crammed into a cage the size of a file cabinet drawer (the industry

standard).

Of course, the woman who bought the box of bits wanted a different body

part–not this “disgusting” head thing. If she could see how chickens are

raised, she might actually have wanted a soy “chicken” instead.

Twenty-first century farming has brought us a very different world from the

time when President Roosevelt promised two

chickens in every pot. Back then, hens felt earth, not wire, under their

feet. They enjoyed the sunshine instead of burning their nostrils on the

stench of ammonia caused by the accumulation of their droppings in sheds

that can house from 10,000 to a million birds for eight weeks without being

cleaned. Back then, birds preened for the rooster instead of ending up

bloodied and featherless from being forced against the sides of their wire

prisons.

Nowadays, most small farms and almost all “free range” chickens have gone

the way of the typewriter. Factory farm conglomerates have taken over. Many

are owned by the pharmaceutical companies that market the hormones that

build birds with such large breasts their leg-bones crack under the

strain of supporting them, as well as the drugs that must now be administered

to the

birds to prevent them from succumbing to diseases brought on by the stress

associated with “intense population density,” that is, overcrowding.

American’s chicken flesh addiction causes today’s birds unimaginable

suffering from shell to slaughterhouse hell. Chicken “processing plants” are

neither humane nor hygienic. In December, 2000, any doubts about their

cleanliness should have been laid to rest with the largest meat recall in US

history. Condemned poultry parts, infected with listeria, caused four

deaths, some miscarriages and much illness before the recall whistle blew.

Also in December, while outgoing president Bill Clinton was pardoning Archie

Schaffer of Arkansas’ Tyson Foods (Mr. Schaffer had been found guilty of

attempting to influence former USDA chief Mike Espy over matters of

agriculture policy), poultry processors were welcoming incoming president

George W. Bush, their hearts and their internal bulletins brimming with hope

that the new president will accomplish without penalty of law exactly what

Mr. Schaffer wanted, a relaxation of food safety regulations.

If you starve your dog, you can go to jail. If you starve a chicken, it

depends where you live and why. In many states all agricultural practices

involving chickens are exempt from the law, not for scientific reasons (if

you listen to

chickens squawk, their pain and fear is evident), but for economic ones.

Today, chickens are routinely starved for up to two weeks to escalate their

egg-laying cycles.

Video footage shot by People for the Ethical Treatment of

Animals and local humane agencies in Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina,

California and other states, show other cruelties, too. Chickens are

debeaked without anesthetic, packed into cages so tightly that they peck

each other bloody trying to reach food and water or attempting to sit down.

They are left to die of wounds and injuries without painkillers or

treatment, and that those in serious pain or dying are routinely smothered

or left to rot after being tossed into dumpsters and pits while still alive.

For those of us who like the taste of chicken but do not countenance

cruelty, the twenty-first century has brought us options President Roosevelt

never dreamed of. Plastic Easter eggs filled with candy delight children,

and while the uninitiated make fun of tofu in the same way they make fun of

the World Wide Web, this Chinese food discovery is exciting and versatile.

Learn how to season it to taste like chicken or duck and you can batter and

fry it or use it for Kiev and casseroles. Faux is

indistinguishable from fowl.

As a child I know once remarked, “Wow! It tastes like the real dead thing.”

And for birds and the people who care not to harm them, that puts us one step

closer to what George W. Bush’s father dream of a “kinder, gentler world.”

Ingrid Newkirk is president of the international animal rights organization

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), headquartered in Norfolk,

Vir.

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