7 Simple Things You Can Do to Show Respect for Chickens

chickensdayToday, May 4 is International Respect for Chickens Day, a campaign developed by United Poultry Concerns to celebrate chickens (as friends, not food) and to bring attention to the atrocious treatment that chickens suffer in farming operations.

Here are 7 simple things that you can do to show your respect for chickens:

  1. Don’t eat them. Chickens, especially those on factory farms, endure horrific suffering, just for us to enjoy a fleeting taste on our tongues. Even those raised “humanely” usually experience enormous stress and suffering in their transport and slaughter — some are even boiled alive. Learn more about the conditions that these beings endure and ask yourself whether you’d want to experience the same. If not, then you have a responsibility to stop contributing to their suffering and death. Find out more:
  2. Take the egg-free pledge. May is National Egg Month, and egg producers are working hard to convince citizens to eat more eggs. Instead, take the egg-free pledge and choose egg-free products for at least 30 days. Battery hens (those hens who are used to lay eggs for human consumption) endure terribly inhumane conditions, and male “battery chicks” are killed immediately, since they are of no use to the industry, usually by slowly suffocating them or by grinding them up alive.
  3. Question your assumptions. Many people think of chickens as stupid animals, but that’s completely untrue. When we take the time to study what chickens are really like, the degree of their intelligence and the complexity of their lives emerges. Check out:
  4. Learn more about them. In addition to learning about how they’re treated for food, learn about the natural lives of chickens. For example, did you know…
    • Building a private nest is so important to chickens that they’ll go without food and water, if they have to, to instead be able to use a nest.
    • They often talk to their babies before they’ve been born.
    • They take dust baths instead of showers.
    • They can see light in the morning almost an hour before humans can.
    • At night, they like to fly up to safe places in trees to sleep.
    • They recognize their names (if given one by humans) and the faces of others.
    • Chicken moms are very courageous and will go to great lengths to protect their babies.
    • They are intelligent and good problem solvers. They can understand that, even when an object is taken away, it still exists.
    • They have separate alarm calls, depending on whether a predator is traveling by land or air.

    Find out more through useful resources, such as:

    • The Natural History of the Chicken (from PBS)
    • Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good by Jonathan Balcombe
    • The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals by Jeffrey Masson
    • The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery
  5. Watch your language. Using words and phrases such as “bird brain,” “running around like a chicken with his head cut off,” to “chicken out,” and so on, spread disrespect for and misinformation about chickens. Think consciously about the language that you use.
  6. Share with others. Use your knowledge about chickens and the way they’re treated to compassionately educate others. Point adults to websites and videos. Share age-appropriate activities and resources with kids (suggested ones here, here and here). Don’t just blast everyone with horrifying accounts; share positive and uplifting stories. Help them get to know chickens and then encourage them to take positive action to help end their suffering and exploitation.
  7. Meet a chicken or two. It’s much more difficult to make judgments and assumptions about those we haven’t personally met. Take advantage of a farmed animal sanctuary near you and go and meet some chickens! Get to know them!

The Question is Not “Can They Reason?…” The Question is Why Are Will Still Exploiting Animals?

cowA new study shows that fish are smarter than scientists thought.  Wired did a story a few weeks ago on “clever critters” who use tools of various sorts.  Psychologist Irene Pepperberg has just released a new book, Alex & Me, detailing her 30 year relationship with and research on Alex, an African Grey Parrot, who showed (among other revelations) that birds can understand abstract concepts.  Several months ago Joshua Klein gave a talk at the TED.com conference about the amazing intelligence of crows.   And, in my job for the Institute for Humane Education, I just finished editing and formatting a student’s lesson plan for elementary students about the commonalities that humans, cows, pigs and chickens share, such as having friends, good memories and senses of direction, and the ability to play computers games or learn from watching TV (check out this video as an example of the latter two).

For centuries we have tried to differentiate ourselves from animals, labeling ourselves as smarter – and thus better – because of our use of tools, our ability to feel, our ability to recognize ourselves and to understand abstract concepts, our use of language, our awareness of death, and so on. Throughout the years, we’ve seen these theories upon which we’ve based our superiority shattered. Animals, too, share these same (or similar) qualities. Yet, we humans continue to wear blinders when it comes to our place in the world, because it’s a lot easier to look at yourself in the mirror each morning if your conscience isn’t struggling with the consequences of your actions. As Arthur Schopenhauer once said “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

Skeptics say that the behavior in animals which some scientists say reflects consciousness, intelligence, the ability to feel and think, actually results from “natural selection and learning.” How is that any different from our own way of existing? We learn by imitation, trial and error, and cultural passage, just as non-human animals do. We often revere people who exhibit unique or rare behaviors; yet, when animals show unique behavior, it is dismissed, because science demands repeatable examples. One could argue that most people behave and react very similarly. Is it then only those who possess genius who are truly conscious and intelligent? Are the rest of us existing through the shadows on Plato’s cave?

It really doesn’t matter, though, how smart animals are, or how conscious or how feeling. Because we know that the real relevant distinction is DNA. Objectively, there is no good reason to consider animals inferior. We do so because we choose to. As scholar Brian Luke once said, “Regarding other animals as subhuman is more a choice than a recognition of some objective fact.” We can talk about intelligence and emotions and suffering, but the bottom line is: Who can we get away with exploiting? We aren’t  supposed to exploit other humans anymore — although that hasn’t stopped us from continuing to do so — but we can get away with exploiting non-human animals. So we do. Novelist Brigid Brophy said,

“Whenever people say ‘We mustn’t be sentimental,’ you can take it that they are about to do something cruel. And if they add ‘We must be realistic,’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.”

We exploit animals—we cause them suffering and distress and agony and loneliness—because we choose to. Not because it benefits our soul, but because it benefits our pockets. Or simply, because we want to.

To me, the question of whether or not animals are conscious or intelligent or inferior is irrelevant. The relevant question is: What kind of person do I want to be? Do I want to cause suffering and destruction? Do I want to rain down hell on another being that I would do anything not to experience myself? Or, do I want to choose to be the highly evolved, highly conscious being that I claim to be? Do I want to strive to be the most human (and humane) that I can, which means showing compassion and respect and reverence and responsibility? Not just to my fellow humans—but to all beings, regardless of consciousness or intelligence. Regardless of DNA.

We claim to want a world of peace and love. And we can have the world we want—it’s all in the choices that we make every day. Every choice we make carries such power. Every choice we make helps shape the world. But we won’t have that world as long as we oppress and exploit other beings – including animals. Many of us don’t directly hurt animals, but the choices that we make and the systems that we support do. So we are still complicit. We are still responsible.

I invite you to make a choice today and every day. Make a choice to see beyond outward differences. Make a choice to see that all of us—humans and not—feel love and fear and a desire to live out our lives in peace. And make a choice to live your life in a way that will truly create a world of peace and love for all beings.

~ Marsha