Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm

As a vegan, I am often asked about my diet and although most people can grasp the idea of not eating the bodies of animals - aka 'meat' - many have a harder time conceptualising a diet free of eggs and milk...oh, and especially cheese. Thanks to extremely successful marketing, eggs and milk are seen as healthful, desirable, 'perfect' foods despite the fact that the exact opposite is, in fact, true.

Similarly, most people do not want to know where their milk and eggs come from, the process which brings them from an animal's body to their plate. The perceived innocuousness of the humble egg is an especially tough one to crack, as it were. The ubiquity of eggs in even apparently unrelated products, combined with the erroneous perception that the 'cage free' label on a carton actually means something in respect of the conditions of production, combined with intrinsic self-centeredness, add up to a situation wherein people succeed in brushing aside the misery and suffering inherent and inevitable in mass egg production. And it is comforting to those fortunate enough to live in rural areas to argue the 'small, family farms, humane conditions' angle, so beloved of my New England neighbours.

However it is a false comfort. A cold comfort. Because it seeks to deny the common-sensical truth that these local farms, family farms, simply cannot provide eggs, cost effectively, on the scale currently demanded. It is logically impossible.

And this is why the majority - the vast majority - of eggs come from massive industrialised battery operations, where tens of thousands of hens are packed into sheds and each one lives out her miserable, foreshortened life in a barren wire cage along with perhaps 7 or 8 cage mates.

That's eight or nine souls in a cage roughly the size of a file cabinet drawer. Eight or nine pairs of eyes looking out into the ammonia-sodden darkness. In fear and panic. Eight or nine bodies with skin rubbed raw from the wire, beaks seared off, sharing space with the dead or dying around them. Until their time for release comes and each cage is finally opened and each spent, broken hen is shipped to slaughter, since her egg production has declined.

Until now, it's been possible to imagine this only from our human perspective. From watching brutal and devastating video of these confined feed operations. Always looking in with the freedom of an external position. But, thanks to web developer and activist Mark Middleton, new perspective is available which puts the viewer squarely in the center of the action - in the place of the hen.

I came across this project - The Virtual Battery Cage - via Animal Voices and recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest in knowing where the eggs for their weekend brunch omelette come from. It's a powerful tool in helping us to see life from the perspective of the others. Those who are unfortunate enough to call a battery cage their home. Whose lives and cries are unheeded and whose deaths are mandated by pure economics.

Please check out The Virtual Battery Cage and then decide if that omelette truly is worth it to you.

Stay Vegan, Friends.