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Vegetarianism and Endangered Chickens

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I was a vegetarian for a decade or so in my early twenties. I had read a book titled “The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory” by Carol J. Adams which, in my opinion is not an easy book to read, nor is it especially well written. Adams repeats herself often throughout the book (though I must admit I should not be critical of this, as I also have the tendency to repeat myself often!) The premise of this book is that the world of patriarchy and meat-eating are intrinsically linked, as both animals and women are viewed in pieces, existing to be “consumed”- an attitude towards women that demeans them and treats them as little more than pieces rather than a whole person to be respected. Truth be told, I do not recall much of this book now, more than a decade later. The cover however, with a female labeled with cuts of meat, like a cow or pig, has stuck with me for these many years.

Around the time that I read this book I went on a field trip courtesy of my high school’s Future Farmers of America group, to our state college agricultural extension office and then to the beef slaughterhouse. I saw nothing like the horrific videos that are more and more common now of abuse, neglect and absolute evil happening around our country’s slaughterhouses (and factory farms and feedlots), but it was bad enough to view that I stopped eating meat that day. I am not generally disturbed by the cycle of life, which inevitably includes death. In college I had hopes of becoming either a librarian, a crime scene investigator or an embalmer at a funeral home. I took courses about crime scene investigating and a lot of psychology and sociology. The thought of viewing dead human bodies was not nearly as uncomfortable as viewing slabs of meat hanging from hooks was.

My husband joined me in being a vegetarian for a few years, but as many vegetarians will attest, one of the things you always miss the most is bacon. Ahh, bacon- perfect in so many meals, but for the record disgusting when covered in chocolate! My husband presented me with this gift for Mother’s Day several years ago and to our dismay, combining two of the world’s most delicious goods was a nasty, unappetizing idea. Ah, I got off track there for a moment! After years of our admittedly crummy  vegetarian diet which consisted of mostly awful frozen meals (before I learned to cook anything more than Kraft macaroni and  cheese or Pasta Roni), my dear husband gave in to a near heart attack meal consisting of several pieces of bacon on a double cheeseburger. He ended his vegetarian diet with a greasy, delicious bang!

Flash forward several years. We watch the movie Food Inc., horrified by the conditions of factory farms, larger than football field chicken “houses”. We learn more about the disgusting conditions at cattle feedlots, and the sheer immensity of them- the largest cattle feedlot in the United States- Harris Ranch in California holds 100,000 cattle on 800 acres. The cattle are fed corn which their bodies are not made to process, along with dead chickens from the overcrowded, inhumane chicken houses and battery cages for laying hens, along with antibiotics for all of the factory farm animals- dairy cows and pigs as well. We educated ourselves and decide to raise our own animals, especially chickens for eggs and to breed more. Due to the overwhelming demand by U.S. consumers for cheap meat and the genetic altering of one breed of chicken for laying the most eggs and having the most breast meat as possible – so much that they can no longer stand up- not that there is much reason to, as in these conditions there is nowhere to walk to-because of this demand and production cycle, we now have endangered species of chickens. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. There are many breeds of chickens- known as heritage breeds- due to how long they have been around, in the U.S, or other countries, that number as few as 30. Thirty chickens left of one breed because folks stopped farming, for the most part, until the resurgence of backyard urban farming and new small farms emerging as more and more people learn about the horror of where the cheap meat in the grocery stores comes from. One of the best books I have read on this subject is “The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business” by Christopher Leonard.

Three years ago we moved to our current little homestead, after a brief trial period of raising 3 chickens and our family in the dead middle of the desert- isolated enough that our home could not be found by GPS, and we had to have water trucked in. We didn’t stay there long! There is something to be said for privacy and space, but there is a lot more to say when this home comes with a neighbor down the dirt road who seems to be running his own private zoo, We entertained ourselves by trying to guess what new animal he had acquired by the sounds coming from his fenced in property and pens.

Three years ago is also when my health took a turn for the worse. I have been mildly disabled with cerebral palsy since being born 4 months premature, which causes some problems, but I am lucky that it is not severe. For the past three years I have been in constant, extreme pain from what was misdiagnosed as a rare disease, which led to an unnecessary brain surgery a year and a half ago. More on that for another post. Around this time, my husband who has worked long and hard since his first job in a deli at age 13 began having migraines so terrible that he would be nauseated and in intense pain for days at a time. This stemmed from bone spurs at the top of his spine, which caused him so much pain from the long years of heavy labor jobs, an injury in the Army which caused him to be a disabled Army veteran, and a car accident which damaged his spine, worsening the pain.

We started our little farm despite the odds stacked against us. Whenever I had another surgery we would sell some of the flock because it was too hard for my husband to keep up on his own, though in fact, he has been running our farm alone from a few months after we began. A few months after we began our farm I had my first animal heartbreak when the wandering neighborhood dogs killed my entire flock of Delaware chickens- leaving so many white feathers on the ground it appeared that our hot, dry desert had a freak snowstorm overnight. I have not helped since that time on anything but the taxes on our little homestead. Our hearts went out of it as our pain, disorders and disabilities worsened. I have not given up entirely, but soon the flock outside, and the roosters that start crowing at 2am, will be moved to another farm. My husband and I will heal eventually, we’ll return to our vegetarian diet for health and ethical reasons, and also because our youngest refuses all but bacon- the siren call to all non-meat eaters. When we are better we will rebuild our little homestead in the desert. It is frustrating and sad to admit defeat, but it is not fair to continue on when we lack the energy to run our farm the way we envisioned years ago. I try to think of this as a break, as opposed to the end of our homestead dreams.

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