I used to believe, like so many people, that of all the meats available, that chicken was my healthiest choice. Before going plant-based vegan, I had been out to dinner a month or two before with a friend and had the tastiest BBQ chicken imaginable. However, giving up eating chickens, now that I know not only why it isn’t a healthy choice, as well as how poorly chickens are treated, is no longer an option for me. Let me stress that the purpose of this post is not to convince you to start eating pork or beef instead, but to simply give you the the facts about how horrific these sentient beings are treated in factory farms, as well as the health risks involved by eating them. But first, before going into details, let me start by sharing a sweet little story…or just skip it and go to the facts!
A year before going completely vegan, my friend Marta had had me over to her house for dinner. She invited me down into her basement and said, “I have a surprise to show you!” To my surprise it was a box of little baby chicks. They were adorable! Looking much like the photo above. I’ve always been a huge bird lover. When I was only two years old, I had pointed at the crows in our backyard and told my parents that I wanted one as a pet. This resulted in my parents getting me a Mynah bird. We named him “Fusser” or “Footsie” in English. Later in life I got a parakeet, whom I had for ten years & adored, so when I saw Marta’s baby chickens the bird lover in me awoke and I started talking to them, making little bird sounds. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been around baby chickens before. There they were busily making small soft chirps amongst each other. When I started interacting with them, they immediately stopped chirping and looked up at me curiously, but when I stopped they’d start chirping again, then I’d start and they’d stop to listen. Marta asked if I wanted to pet one of them and I said, “Yes, please!” Chickens, I discovered, have incredibly soft feathers! Marta had given each of them a name and she even told me about their different personalities that she’d noticed. Well, these little chicks might have moved into Marta’s basement at the time, but they had also moved into the back of my mind.
One of the first books that I read, when I decided to go plant-based vegan, was Kathy Freston‘s book “Veganist“. I highly recommend it! In it she writes, “Over 95 percent of the meat, dairy, and eggs we eat comes from factory farms, where the animals are pumped full of drugs to keep them alive and to speed up their development and productivity. In fact, chickens get twice the antibiotic dosing that cattle do, because the conditions they are raised in are the worst and therefore require more medicine just to keep them alive long enough to be killed for their meat.“ (p.106 of Veganist) This ought to set off the alarm bells in your head! She further writes, “I recently came across this truly shocking fact: More people per year die from antibiotic-resistant infections than from prostate and breast cancer combined. And the numbers are going up at an alarming rate.” (p.107) Well, is it any wonder? Think about it, please!
If a truly awful bug comes along antibiotics won’t be helping us, because our bodies will be resistant to them due to all the other drugs that we’ve been unknowingly eating and storing up in our bodies. Kathy Freston writes, “We call them superbugs. And we humans are increasingly vulnerable to their antibiotic-resistant ways. Farm animals are also pumped full of antiviral drugs, leading to the emergence of drug resistant strains of viruses. Combined with the stress of confinement impairing the animals’ immune systems, these farms are perfect incubators for new viruses, which are now mutating like never before and becoming increasingly difficult to control.” The fact that we haven’t had a mass epidemic of the bird flu is really short of a miracle. Kathy Freston interviews Dr. Michael Greger on Factory Farming and Superbugs, a fascinating interview, (I am going to let you read that on your own)! After speaking about the swine-flu virus H1N1, Dr. Greger points out, “Tens of millions of people have become infected and thousands of young people have died, but H1N1 is not particularly virulent. There are other flu viruses that have emerged in recent decades such as highly “pathogenic” (disease causing) bird flu H5N1 that may have the potential to cause much greater human harm.” (p.109) You may think, “Oh, that’s not going to cause much damage – we can fight this if it comes our way!” Well, think again!
Dr. Greger has this to say about H5N1, “Currently H5N1 kills approximately 60 percent of those it infects, so you don’t even get a coin toss chance of survival. That’s a mortality rate on par with some strains of Ebola. Fortunately, only a few hundred people have become infected. Should a virus like H5N1 trigger a pandemic, though, the results could be catastrophic. During a pandemic as many as 2 or 3 billion people can become infected. A 60 percent mortality rate is simply unimaginable. Unfortunately, it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Both China and Indonesia have reported sporadic outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu in pigs…” (p.110) I don’t know about you, but these numbers sound pretty scary to me! Sounds like a new black plague, also known as “Black Death” which was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350.
Dr. Greger tells Kathy Freston that the worst plague in human history was the 1918 flu pandemic triggered by the bird flu virus that went on to kill upwards of 50 million people. Dr. Greger says, “The crowded, stressful, unhygienic trench warfare conditions during World War I that led to the emergence of the 1918 virus are replicated today in nearly every industrial chicken shed and egg operation. Instead of millions of vulnerable hosts to evolve within back then, we now have billions of chickens intensively confined in factory farms, arguably the perfect-storm environment for the emergence and spread of hypervirulent, so-called predator-type viruses like H5N1. The 1918 virus killed about 2.5 percent of the people it infected, twenty times deadlier than the seasonal flu. H5N1 is now killing 60 percent of infected people, twenty times deadlier than the 1918 virus. So if a virus like 1918’s gained easy human transmissibility, it could make the 1918 pandemic-the deadliest plague ever-look like the regular flu.” (p.113) That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Right now, I’m listening to a period piece in my car, a fictional story, that takes place in Paris during the 1800’s where the outbreak of cholera was prevalent. The funny thing about the human mind is that we think that we’re above some of these diseases and we can’t imagine that they’ll ever happen to us, but they have and they will if we’re not careful!
In Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman’s book, “Skinny Bitch” they also talk about chickens. They write, “We often hear the snobby declaration, “I don’t eat any red meat. I just eat chicken.” Well now you know: Chicken is just as bad for you as cow or pig. In fact, it might even be worse. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, eating chicken (and fish) is linked to colon cancer. Researchers examined the eating habits of 32,o00 men and women over a six-year period and then monitored emerging cancer cases for the next six years. “Among participants who generally avoided red meat but who ate white meat less than once per week, colon cancer risk was 55 percent higher than for those who avoided both kinds of meat. Those who had white meat at least once per week had more than three-fold higher colon cancer risk.” Researchers at the National Cancer institute found grilled chicken to have high levels of heterocyclic amines, carcinogens that are formed when animal proteins are heated. With 480 nanograms of heterocyclic amines per gram, grilled chicken registered 15 times higher than beef.” If this is not enough to convince you to lay off the chickens, I don’t know what is? That certainly did it for me!
With new knowledge gained, that BBQ chicken that I mentioned earlier no longer appealed to me and I will certainly never go back to eating it ever again. In fact, now when I pass chicken items or am in line at the grocery store behind a person buying one of those boxed chickens – which are usually larger than normal sized chickens, I cringe! All I can think of is how that chicken has been pumped full of antibiotics, steroids, pesticides and hormones to stay alive in the absurd conditions of the factory farm, plus how badly the poor animal was treated before ending up in that plastic container! Those facts have made it a very easy decision not to buy or ever eat it again!
OK, now that I’ve told you about the health risks, lets talk about how these beautiful sentient beings (they have the ability to feel, perceive, and are conscious) are treated. First of all, the chickens you are eating spend most of their lives in filthy, ammonia-laden sheds with thousands of other chickens. According to a New Yorker writer who visited a major chicken farm wrote, “I almost was knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs and I could neither see nor breathe.” I am convinced that if any of us were to visit one of these chicken farms, even for just a few minutes, that would be enough to convince any of us to stop eating them. However, the treatment of them gets worse. PETA writes, “After six weeks in these horrible conditions, the birds are roughly thrown into cages that are stacked on the back of a truck, and then they are shipped through all weather extremes to the slaughterhouse.” Once when I was driving home from work, I locked eyes with one of those chickens on a large truck. That experience pierced my heart! I literally sensed the sadness in those little eyes and that moment alone is permanently stuck to my memory…to my soul!
PETA further writes, “At slaughter, workers violently grab them and hang them upside-down by their legs, which they force them into shackles, breaking many of them in the process.” Time is money in these factories. A worker often holds up to four or five chickens at a time, upside down, by their legs, I’ve read. PETA continues, “Then, the chickens’ throats are slit, and they are dragged through tanks of scalding-hot water, often while they are still conscious.” This is not the first time that I have read about these horrors. Listen, we wouldn’t do this to a dog or a cat, that would be considered animal cruelty, right?! Well, not only are chickens sentient beings, but according to research, “Chickens are smarter than dogs, cats, and even some primates. In a natural setting, a mother hen begins to teach her chicks various calls before they even hatch-she clucks softly to them while sitting on eggs, and they chirp back to her and to each other from inside their shells. Unfortunately, chickens in factory farms never meet their mothers.” (from PETA’s Go Vegetarian Go Vegan Magazine)
In addition, PETA writes, “Birds who are raised for their eggs are packed, five to 11 at a time, into wire cages that are so small that they don’t have enough room to spread even a single wing. Their wings and legs atrophy from disuse, and their legs and feet become deformed from standing on slanted wire cage bottoms. The tip of each hen’s sensitive beak is cut off with a burning-hot blade [no anesthesia]. It takes 34 hours to produce just one egg. After about two years of confinement, they are violently pulled from their cages and shipped to slaughter. Their bodies are already so battered and emaciated that they can only be used for soup or companion-animal food.” Think about that the next time you desire chicken noodle soup. No thanks!
Here’s Dr. Neal Barnard giving you another reason why you might want to re-think that chicken noodle soup the next time you get the sniffles:
It is my sincere hope that I have convinced you to lay off the chickens and the eggs! They are neither a healthy nor a humane option for anyone. If you don’t believe me there are enough articles from renowned professors and documented footage about these facts!
Health & Happiness to you! Nina