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Sunday, April 28, 2013

You eat babies

To commemorate my 25th year of being a vegan, I have decided to share some stories from various investigations I have done of factory farms, auctions, and slaughterhouses. Though these investigations were conducted with the organization I started and ran, Viva!USA, they are a powerful part of my life and hopefully will help many understand why veganism is a key part to Food Empowerment Project’s goal of a more just food system.

I debated on the title for this blog and, well, you can let me know what you think. It does make me flash back to my early vegan days when I was in high school – a time when, I acknowledge, I could have done a better job of encouraging people to listen to what I had to say.

But at the same time, the above title is the truth.

People in the US who consume chickens are, well, eating babies.*

Chickens slaughtered for food are chicks, really. They are less than two months old when they are killed. These absolutely gentle and fragile birds are mere babies.

It has always been easy to find farms where chickens are being raised for “meat.” There are so many of them. It is heartbreaking.

The first farm I investigated was in Georgia. It was a Tyson facility. When I opened the door to the shed, I was hit with a wave of humidity and the intense smell of ammonia. It burned my nose and my chest. My lungs burned for a couple of days.

You see, chickens are killed after seven weeks. And workers do not go in and clean the sheds every time they send these chicks to slaughter; they just put more in. So the ammonia buildup is tremendous.

I eventually sought to do investigations of Foster Farms, which are mostly in California. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, the ads probably are: they tend to feature two puppet chickens who talk about wanting to be “Foster Farm” chickens. Yup, just as bad as the “Happy Cow” commercials.

Inside the sheds (like all chicken farms), something seems very strange. After a while you realize it is the chickens themselves: their bodies seem abnormally large compared to their heads and their tiny little chirps.

And that’s just it. They are babies. They are bred to grow very large, very fast. Not only can’t their voices keep up, but neither can their legs.  And eventually, the lungs and hearts of these birds can’t keep up either; many die before they are even sent to slaughter.

Leaving one of the sheds, it was my legs that gave way. Watching these babies struggling to stand wasn’t even the main thing that made me fall down. And I do mean fall down … when leaving one of the sheds, I collapsed. I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the number of birds. The reality of how many are killed. I could take 100 and would anyone even notice?

With every investigation I did, my goal was to create a campaign -- something to focus on. And with chickens, I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the lives being taken.

Every farm had dozens of sheds, and each shed had approximately 20,000 chickens inside.

At the time, 23 million chickens were slaughtered every day for food. Today it is just under 24 million.

With a number so large, how do I make every individual matter? How do I get people to understand a bird who most have absolutely no personal association with. Not like cows who many pass along the highway. Not like ducks who they see on the ponds. Not like pigs who are the focus of movies. How do we get people to see that chickens too are feeling, precious beings?

This is something I still struggle with.

I hope the more we can get people to learn about chickens as individuals, the more they will empathize with them. Like how both hens and roosters will protect chicks, whether or not they are their offspring; how roosters will let off different warning calls to protect flocks; how chickens mourn, get happy, angry and, yes, have emotions. As with all animals, just getting to know them is key. But why must we get to know their personalities before we have empathy for them?

Oh, to get people to hold one of these absolutely gentle birds, their bones so fragile, and realize that we have the power to protect them! That we need to defend the most vulnerable – like babies. They don’t need much from us to take care of them. They simply need us to stop eating them.

*Most animals raised and killed for food are killed when they are young.

This blog was written in honor of International Respect for Chickens Day.


  1. Most people are so absorbed in themselves they don't look past their own tiny lives. I have many chickens as pets, most starting as rescues from Amish factory farms. I totally know what you mean when you say they are but babes when slaughtered. My favorite hen was names Pretty. She was a broiler hen. She lived to be 2 years old. Died of a heart attack in my arms. We knew it was coming, but when? She couldn't walk anymore, but loved being put in a wagon and rolled around the yard. Chickens are sentient being. They FEEL. Someday we will all be judged on what we give, not what we get or what we have. IMHO of course.

    1. Thank you so much for taking such good care of those little loves.

  2. Dear Lauren,
    I have just found your blog and I feel deeply concerned and moved after reading your words.

    Thank you.


    1. Max,

      Thank you so much for your kind note, it means so much to me.

  3. Dear lauren and FEP,

    Thank you for your eloquently beautiful tribute to these chickens who, as you remind us, are just babies when they die their horrible agonizing death in the slaughterhouse after living their sad lives in toxic waste and knowing only human cruelty. I hope they are able to find some comfort and peace with one another while they live.

    With you, I work and long for justice and liberation for chickens. And if there is true justice, our species will not get away with the evil and sorrow we have brought to their lives and inflicted on the souls of birds.

    Karen Davis, President, United Poultry Concerns.

    1. Karen,

      Thank you for your kind note and for all you and UPC does for all of these precious birds.

  4. I'm weeping. I adopted a broiler chicken with a broken leg and a a broken wing: she fell down the truck that was bringing her and some thousand chickens to the slaughterhouse. Even though some people said it was humane to put her to sleep, we decided to give her a chance, because she was so lively! It's been difficult but we made it, she lived surrounded by animals of different species (we rescue animals from labs and disabled/old/abused animals)and was the apple of my eyes. Her name was Polly, she left us too soon and we miss her like crazy. Currently, we have 2 Hens and a naughty handsome Rooster, together with other 19 furry kids.
    Your post and the comments moved me to tears, I wish there were more people with a beating heart: the world would be a better place for everybody

    1. Thank you for sharing about Polly and for giving her truly a life. I am so sorry for your loss but thank YOU for your lovely heart and making a difference in so many ways.

  5. I have read this article lauren and for a long time felt sadness of all chickens,I hate the way they are treated and there seems to be many places that sells chicken,I also am vegan after being a meat eater and trying to be meat free when young and i didnt eat the right protein,I am so proud to not eat meat and dairy and feel I am helping animals.But its everyone else and chickens and other animals still suffer,I write lots of petitions and try to help all animals,thankyou for your story x

    1. Thank you for going vegan and doing your part to not participate in the suffering and death of chickens and other animals!