Last week, I talked about Slow Food USA’s Slow Meat campaign, aimed at encouraging eaters to make more responsible meat choices. This week, the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is hoping to make you stop eating chicken altogether. They’re not giving blood and bones masked as KFC meals to children this time; rather, they’re taking meat eaters through a day in the life of a chicken via a virtual-reality video game cal “I, Chicken.”
In the video game, you get to be a chicken, flap your wings and follow your chicken friends around a pasture until a loud farmer snatches you up and tosses you into a crate headed for processing. I haven’t played the game myself—PETA is about to go on tour with it to college campuses—but I did watch PETA’s promotional video with interest.
While I’ve never personally experienced life as a chicken, my farm has chickens—a lot of them—both meat birds and laying hens that are either free-range or kept in chicken tractors on pasture. Based on my own experience, I find this video unrealistic for these reasons:
- What’s depicted in the video is not a factory farm, which is what PETA claims to be against in this initiative. The organization’s blog says: “On factory farms, [chickens are] crammed by the tens of thousands into filthy sheds and are bred to grow such unnaturally large upper bodies that their legs often become crippled under their own weight.” This is totally true. But the video doesn’t show life in a factory-farm environment, rather the chickens are happy and free to roam a pasture with creeks, rocks and sunshine. This doesn’t seem like a terrible place to be, as far as I’m concerned, before the end of my life comes.
- I’m pretty sure these aren’t birds typically raised for meat. While what I’m about to say is not a scientific claim, there aren’t a lot of people who will disagree: Laying hens are better-looking chickens than meat birds. The birds in this cartoon video are cute, therefore they cannot be meat producers. In the video, my best chicken friend looks curiously like a Delaware, and that handsome devil playing in the stream—wait, chickens hate water!—is probably an Australorp. Both are egg-producing dual-purpose breeds.
- Chickens aren’t caught in broad daylight. I know this because I have to go out at night with a headlamp to gather our chickens for processing the next day. You could catch a few at a time during daylight, but I would not sign on for having to catch a whole flock before the sun went down. Chickens are extremely docile at night, but they’re hard as hell to catch during the day.
- What’s with the suspenders? I just blogged about farmer stereotypes, and here goes PETA perpetuating them. Give a nontraditional farmer a break, would ya?
What You Thought
After I watched this video with a kind of what-just-happened look on my face, I set out to see if the “I, Chicken” campaign could actually have the effect that PETA is going for, which is, according to their blog, to help people “develop empathy for chickens, who aren’t seen as individuals with interests, wants and needs but rather as producers of meat and eggs.”
I asked a number of chicken-eating friends from different parts of the country who have different levels of farming knowledge to take a look at the video and give me some feedback. No one learned anything about chicken production from watching the video. (“Was it supposed to be informative? It felt more like it was trying to appeal to the viewer’s sympathies rather than provide concrete facts,” said a friend in California.)
Some of my friends said they felt empathy for the chicken. Susan Dedrick-Shuford, a friend in Arizona, put herself in the chicken’s place: “OH MY GOSH! Don’t take Mildred, Willamina, Gert, Ethel, Ginger. … Stop being so rough. WHERE ARE YOU TAKING US?! I want to peck your eyes out! What are you doing? What is happening? (While on the conveyor belt:) This cannot be good.”
Also, Matt Unger in Missouri channeled his inner chicken when he said, “I had an immense sense of dread. I prayed with all my chicken might to my lord and savior Foghorn Leghorn that I would not be chosen.”
None of my friends changed their minds about eating chicken. (PETA says more than 1 million chickens are eaten every hour!)
More than one friend pointed out that as a chicken, while you might feel fear about being picked up and put in a crate in the back of a truck, you wouldn’t be able to understand the farmer’s words (“Get those three chickens, too. We’ll take ’em all to the slaughterhouse. Don’t worry about grabbing them and breaking their wings. Just dump them into crates as fast as you can.”) or read the “Slaughter” sign.
Tara Holden in North Carolina had a great thought: “The part where they were on the conveyer belt reminded me of a Simpsons episode where Homer tries to save a cow. As they are in a trailer approaching their destination he says ‘Oh, look. They brought us to the laughterhouse!’ Then the truck moves and he sees its the slaughterhouse and screams.” Heh.
A Better Approach
All jokes aside, many of you thought that a different approach could have brought more awareness and better understanding to the realities of factory farmed chicken.
“The video and campaign are awkward and heavy-handed,” says J. Bryant in Pennsylvania. “More constructive would have been to follow up with depictions of humane chicken farming and/or suggestions on how to shop for chickens raised humanely.”
Carrie Smiecinski Hornung in New Jersey suggested PETA put a camera on the back of a chicken if the organization wants us to really know what it’s like to be a chicken. I am all for this idea! In fact, if one of you has a GoPro-type camera that you’d be willing to donate to the cause, I’d be happy to camera-up one of our chickens and post some videos here. That would be awesome, actually!
Brian Walker in Indiana points out, “It’s easy for me to eat chicken, as I’m detached from the processing part.” Maybe PETA needs to do a video of chicken processing, like the ones put out by HobbyFarms.com, that show various—including humane—butchering techniques.
And I couldn’t agree more with Michelle Youngblood in Kentucky when she told me, “I do think animals are for consumption, however, the current production from birth to death desperately needs to be overhauled into a healthy (for the animal and us) and sustainable production.”
Now, PETA is rolling out the “I, Chicken” campaign to college campuses. After students play the virtual reality game, they get a vegan starter kit and vegan snacks. (I’d give it a try for the snacks.)
Less drama, more facts, PETA! And, please, do something to distinguish industrial farm practices from us sustainable folks.
Learn more about chicken-keeping from HobbyFarms.com:
- 7 Chickens to Raise for Colorful Eggs
- Infographic: Sick Chickens? Spot the Symptoms
- 7 Necessities for Healthy Chicks
- 4 Steps to Prevent Chicken Obesity
- 9 Tips to Upcycle a Vehicle Into a Chicken Tractor