My articles here are usually happy little trees, singing about some delicious dish, a technique I like, or some culinary triumph. This article is different. It's about a serious topic: Where our food comes from and how it's made. If the darker corners of of our food supply disturb you, skip this article and I promise you a new happy little tree in the next day or three.I think this is a wonderful time to be a foodie. We have access to greater variety and quality than ever, and food is quite a value. But we pay prices for our bounty, as documented in books like Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.
A friend sent me a link to a video secretly shot at a chicken farm or, as they've become, a chicken factory. It's about how chicks are hatched and processed to become our egg suppliers. The males don't serve that process and are removed and disposed of in an efficient, but unkind fashion. Here's the link, but I have to warn you that it's a grisly, real look at something we would rather not think about. You don't need to view it, but if you're a foodie, you do need to think about what we eat and how it gets to us.
As it happens, this was not news to me because I grew up on a chicken farm. My uncles ran the hatchery, my Dad ran the chicken coops. It was 40 years ago and it was on a much smaller scale than what the video shows, but the practices had the same effect. It is true, the roosters are killed. Ours were tossed in a barrel, where they smothered each other to death.
The chicks were all "de-beaked" within a couple of days after they hatched. We didn't have laser-driven machines. Instead, a machine with an electrically heated blade sliced off the tip of the top beak. It prevented the birds from injuring each other by pecking.
We regularly killed injured birds by holding them by the legs (that's the way you carry a chicken), and pulling the head until the neck breaks. After a little practice, it took about a second to do. The bird flaps around like -- well, like a chicken with its head cut off -- that's not a myth. I was told they feel no pain.
The people who run these operations aren't monsters. They're farmers. On a farm, animals are products. Farmers don't go out of their way to be cruel. They're just doing their jobs.
It doesn't stop with chickens. Cows, pigs, squab, and lobsters all feel pain at some point between birth and dinner plate. And the people who work in the slaughterhouses aren't treated so well, either. But then, neither are the people who pick and process our vegetables.
If all this bothers you, what can you do? The video gave one answer: stop eating eggs and milk and meat. While it's a viable personal option, it won't stop these practices. It will make you feel good about yourself, perhaps, and it will reduce the number of farmed animals a little. It pretty much ruins a barbecue. Awareness and legislation can make a difference but it's not an easy fix because other people in other places will gain a competitive edge.
There is suffering in food, and it's not just at the hands of people. Ever see how a salmon dies to feed a wild bear? I watch the spiders in my garden. They make a web every night. I don't want to think about how their food dies. Nor how they die, when it's their time. What we see on National Geographic specials takes place a million times a day, in a million places. Mother Nature is as inhumane as any human.
Some day, we will manufacture proteins in factories without hurting anything alive. Until then, you choose what you choose and something, somewhere, shares the consequences.