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Behind the Breakfast

The egg and chicken reality

Many years ago, 2 decades ago…. I used to breed and show poultry. At one stage I had an assortment of ‘exotic’ breeds and sometimes broody hens would hatch chicks, or I’d use an incubator. I had a very different perspective at the time and would defend consumption of animal products with the somewhat superiority-complex based philosophy that if you couldn’t kill it yourself… you shouldn’t be eating it.
I was so arrogant I actually killed my own chickens rather than choose compassion and kindness.

Behind the Breakfast: Bio

Narrative

20 years ago in the farming community we were a part of, there was less information, understanding and acceptance even of vegetarianism; and veganism was considered extreme- by myself included. My family and friends certainly respected my brutal viewpoint and actively supported eating meat. Any time I wavered I was frantically cautioned that I couldn’t really be healthy without animal products and I would surely become weak and ill.

I loved watching and tending my chicken flock and when the new chicks hatched it was fascinating and nerve wracking. They flop out of the egg, wet and exhausted and looking pretty fragile. I was always worried ..until after a short time they dry out and fluff up and start peeping and moving around. Id keep them cosy under heat lamps and they would grow quickly. I enjoyed watching them scurry about, feeding and incessantly cheeping with their little high pitched chirps.

The chicks raised by mother hens were a lot harder to observe, she would keep a very careful eye on them and we wouldn’t see them when they first hatched, waiting until the exciting day when she brought them outside to see the world. They would keep close and hide under her soft thick feathers if alarmed. The mother so attentive, caring and focused on these little fluffy babies ready to defend them if necessary. This is the introduction to the world all little chicks deserve.

Some of the chicks went on to be show birds and some ended up on the dinner table. There was only room for a select few roosters in the flock. I was both the nurturing protector and the monster with the machete. I managed any cognitive dissonance with that good old down to earth homestead practicality and pragmatism.

Eventually though I discovered the chickens I personally killed just didn’t taste so good and I stopped eating them. The rest of the family ate them… Then I found I was struggling with the thought of eating other animals and tried to find ways to justify meat consumption and ‘make it ok’.  “If I can find a farm that slaughters the animal on site so they have the minimum of stress and trauma and its done quickly and as pain free as possible…” etc etc. “ I can eat hunted meat if the hunter is a skilled and experienced shot and can guarantee a clean swift death” etc. I had all the excuses lined up.

I stopped breeding more chickens into existence and the ones I had left became pets. They had strong and distinct personalities with very clear likes and dislikes and preferences. Two beautiful big roosters would actively seek cuddles and one loved sitting on peoples feet if anyone stood still long enough.

I did actually go on to eat a vegetarian diet for a few years and within that time experimented with veganism for a few months but I didn’t really know what to eat, I was scared of the nutrient deficiencies everyone was telling me about and I didn’t know anyone who was vegan. I didn’t ‘get it’ back then…or I chose not too for my own selfish reasons. It was ‘easier’ to take the blue pill of contented willful ignorance and stay asleep as one of the mainstream accepted herd.

Oh I ‘knew’ it was wrong. And unnecessary and unjustified. But it suited me to look away. I knew animals were individuals with their own personalities and feelings, capable of feeling love, happiness, pain, fear and suffering just as we do. I firmly clung to the ‘humane slaughter’ and “animal welfare standards’ fairytales. If I imagined anything it was animals walking quietly into a slaughterhouse ( oblivious and a bit dumb) and then just as they were starting to realize something might be amiss, they were skillfully and magically stunned and quickly and perfectly slaughtered and transformed into neat supermarket meat packages – before they or any of their friends being aware of anything.

I didn’t become fully vegan until years later. I would mainly follow a vegetarian diet most of the time up until then…but ate meat when it was more convenient to do so. I was ignorant and easily swayed by marketing propaganda like ‘free-range’ ‘happy hens’ and packaging with smiling cows and green pastures.

Eventually after a year of ‘mainly vegan’ (eg plant based and unconcerned by any other beings actual experiences)….I forced myself to watch what I had been to scared to see. Major documentaries presenting the reality of factory farming and slaughter. Dominion. Earthlings and Lucent.

I was shaking and crying. Traumatized. Heartbroken. Then angry and depressed. The truth is worse…far far far worse than I could have imagined and it continues to unfold. Even now almost three years later I am still learning of more horrors and evils that humans impose on suffering fellow earthlings. It seems human capacity for violence, greed, abuse and selfishness is without measure, our species has no natural boundaries and we are as a collective driven by greed and prone to sickening power addiction.

Within those documentaries I watched tiny fluffy day old male chicks (useless to the egg industry) tossed on conveyor belts, trays of them emptied out like trash, to flow en-masse towards a unavoidable drop – a sudden descent into spinning blades…a blender that chops these tiny innocents into meat meal. Some places just put them all in great big garbage bags, seal them up and either gas them or let them suffocate. Tiny innocent babies treated like literal garbage.

Meat breed chickens ….bred to grow quickly – their legs breaking under their insanely bulky bodies. Their eyes still blue, their voices still peeping for the mothers that they instinctively call for – when they are big enough at around 4 to 6 weeks they are crammed into crates and piled many layers high in trucks to go to slaughter…where they are roughly shackled upside down- their legs damaged as they flap and squawk in terror.

They struggle as their passage to death begins- some trying to get free, miss the electrified bath meant to stun them. A blade slices throats so the dangling birds can bleed out, some still flapping.

Egg layers suffer for longer. Cage hens are prisoners in one of the most disgusting systems imaginable. Standing in tiny cages with other chickens – their feet endlessly on cold wire. No sunshine, no fresh air, no freedom to move around. Endlessly cramped in a wire box. Rows and rows. Piles of waste under the lower cages, a cacophony of noise and relentless nerve jangling stress. The only activity available plucking out your own feathers – what’s left of them- or pecking your cell mate. Your beak has been brutally sliced off to minimize the harm you can do against someone crammed in beside you – endlessly ‘in your face’.

Then either the same fate as the meat birds after 18 months or so –slaughtered - often simply gassed as no longer viable, rendered into protein meal for pet food. The extent of the suffering of these birds is horrific. Their lives and deaths are unbelievably cheap, treated with absolutely zero respect at the very least. The condition of the birds at the time of the death is often abysmal – I have seen many images of rescued hens… almost featherless, their combs pale and weak, the bird stressed and emaciated.

Barn laid is only marginally better with huge sheds which can be more than 100 metres long, 25 metres wide and contain up to 30,000 hens. These intelligent, brave and curious birds who have complex social structures, ability to recognize and interact with up to a 100 other individuals and who are capable of forming friendships and who will bravely defend their young chicks against much larger animals (including humans) are forced into unnatural stressful overcrowded situations.

Free-range is rarely the children’s story book ideal of wandering freely on beautiful grassy paddocks. In most large commercial farms the hens live in the same sheds as the barn systems but access to the outdoors must be provided. To be classified as a free range egg farm, the hens must have meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range during daylight hours. Farmers facilitate this by opening up doors to the sheds (called pop holes) every morning and closing them up in the late afternoon when the hens are back inside. In a shed of 30,000 not everyone even gets near the pop holes.

A factual account by independent journalism can be read here; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/30/free-range-eggs-con-ethical

A factual but biased, whitewashed account utilising marketing phrases; by the egg industry is here;

https://www.australianeggs.org.au/farming/free-range-eggs

Read them both and see how consumers are tricked and manipulated into purchasing suffering and perpetuating systemic violence in the food industry.

I created this art work to tell the story of the countless tragic birds caught up in the trauma of the egg and chicken industries.

The consumer – oblivious and cheerfully wilfully ignorant cooks their breakfast of friend eggs – focused only on their own selfish taste pleasure without a thought for the reality of the lives of the birds behind the food. Documentaries like Dominion are readily available free of charge to view on the internet yet the majority of people refuse to even look.

The person tosses their egg shells in the bin…. but in this narrative piece the hand callously throws out two fluffy yellow chicks. A stark reminder that the darker waste product of the industry is the hapless male chicks, killed on the day they hatch. Scared, disorientated, peeping for a mother, looking for safety and security and scrambling to avoid falling into an industrial blender.

Hens in the background of the artwork are live shackled on a slaughter line, the bird at the front struggling, its leg broken and its feathers dirty and disheveled.

Red blood runs through the painting and shrouded figures oversee the entire ghoulish process. Driven by greed , marketing propaganda deceives consumers into a false reality where they can remain blissfully arrogant. Confident in their self-imposed place as a human supremacist; disregarding other beings as lesser and irrelevant……in comparison to selfish human taste preferences, convenience and social norms.

Behind the Breakfast: Text
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