Poultry Farm Ethics

I braced myself for a horrific scene as the Ollen brothers opened the door to their poultry operation. We were asked to put plastic sleeves over our shoes, which they assured us was to protect the chickens from exposure to bacteria and viruses we could carry in on our shoes. I was a bit skeptical – the plastic casing could have also been to protect ourselves from spreading the avian manure through the rest of the facility. The door creaked open, and the sound of thousands of birds flooded my eardrums.

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The dim lighting lent itself to highlight the hazy atmosphere; dust filled my lungs with as I drew in my first breath inside of a poultry house. “Well…at least it smells better than Guano“, I thought to myself as we delved deeper into the half-acre building. I peered through the dust at the tiny birds running away from the cold air blasting through the door. I couldn’t believe my eyes. While the conditions were much better than I had anticipated, I was still disappointed with what I saw. The chickens were mangy – missing patches of feathers, exposing their raw pink skin. The chickens collapse under their own weight, waddling around until their bones cannot support their weight anymore. While I visually absorbed this site, I listened to the facts the farmers rattled off to our group.

Source: Google Images

Allen Ollen supplied us with information regarding the growing process of these animals. Their diet consists of a combination of mostly corn, soybeans, and wheat; this concoction successfully allows chickens to grow at an incredibly accelerated rate. In addition to diet, the lighting within the poultry houses is strictly regulated in order to change their sleep patterns. For example, by the time these chickens are 28 days old, the enclosed area only receives one hour of darkness. The idea here is to keep the chickens awake for a maximum amount of time, increasing the potential for the animals to ingest more food, which will allow them to put on more weight. While each batch of 30,000 birds takes 38 days to grow to the desired size, two weeks are granted as a grace period between flock production. But while the group nodded in agreement with Allen’s commentary, I shook my head in disbelief.

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Allen disclosed that the purpose for enclosing the entire structure is to reduce stress for the chickens; they were no longer disturbed by the feeding trucks, and had “no predators”. This statement absolutely blew my mind. First of all, the conditions these chickens are in are incredibly stressful. They develop muscle faster than their bone structure can keep up with, are forced into irregular sleep patterns, and fed a diet designed to have the chickens grow rapidly. Second, no predators? This business is a predator, and a smart one at that for housing the prey itself. I have a difficult time digesting that people are willing to accept this standard of life for these beings, and claim that they are happy. Food and water and shelter is all they need, right?  Source: Google Images

These animals still suffer from neglect, having never seen the sun, and a lifespan of merely 38 days. This process is disturbing, and I am appalled that our society has allowed it to persist for so long. And although this facility is better than most, it disgusts me knowing there are poultry growing sites with worse conditions. This mass production of flesh is an unnecessary means, and will never feed the world as people suppose it can. CAFOs will only ever be the source of world hunger, starving poorer peoples of the grains that could be utilized to feed their families. I can only hope that I will see the day that large scale flesh factories are no longer in operation.

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Food for Thought

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A delicious, nutritious dinner of quinoa, butternut squash, rabbit, and beans.

The Chesapeake Semester has begun.  We were christened with the water kissing the shoreline of Chino Farms, located in Queen Anne’s county.  The group marched single file into camp as would little ducklings waddling after their mother along a river bank. After taking time to set up camp, equipped with tents and a makeshift kitchen, we scurried off to discover some flora and fauna of the farm lands. Food was certainly on our minds as we came back from romping around in the “wilderness”.

Dr. Schindler, professor of Anthropology at the college, joined us for day two of our camping trip to expose us to the foraging techniques used by people who lived in this area many years before. We expended a fair amount of energy clawing at the roots of cattails in the mud, collecting grit under our finger nails to obtain part of our meal. The robust, starchy roots were highly desirable due to their caloric density, and also how palatable they are. Following this, we padded around the surrounding area searching for more edible plants, uncovering an assortment of under ripe fruit, prickly pear cacti, seeds, and sassafras root (which made a delicious tea!). Considering the caloric densities of these foods, survival in this area would be difficult without supplementing diet with animals. Venison and poultry could be obtained in this area which would allow one to sustain themselves here. Dr. Schindler provided us with squirrel, duck, rabbit, and cow femurs for bone marrow to incorporate into our meal. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to crack open the femur using brute force and stone tools. I was shocked with the amount of force which was required to access the buttery liquid. I also consumed rabbit for the first time, which was also the first meat (besides fish, which began this summer) that I had consumed in four years, as I was vegan before starting this adventure around the Bay.

Preparing and cooking our dinner took hours – which was all accomplished through our fire and pots which were also provided by Dr. Schindler. The most interesting part, to me, was boiling the quinoa, squash, and beans inside of a pumpkin. You get to eat everything there – the cooking vessel too! After throwing stones in the fire to heat them, these were transferred into the pumpkin which brought the water to a boil. Aside from some grit and ash that made its way into the mixture, it was quite delectable, even without seasonings. This was the most connected to food I had been in a while – I was able to appreciate how much work went into retrieving calories and how precious they can be. Our western society has become absolutely detached from food – we have broken it down into individual aspects of fats, carbohydrates, protein. But this only needed to be analyzed so closely once we became sedentary individuals. People sitting on couches in sterile living rooms scanning through hundreds of television channels have to diet, and watch their weight, for they consume calories in vast quantities through junk foods. The calories are empty – think of potato chips. Light and crispy, but what do they actually provide? Fat and salt, but not other vital nutrients.Not to mention it would require a bag of potato chips to even begin to consider being satiated.  I enjoyed experiencing this deeper connection to the food I consumed through spending ample time collecting and preparing it. I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves to make connections such as this, or else we too fall victim to the advertising companies flashing pictures of the packaged snack foods and sealed packages of meat products, boasting about what they DON’T contain. Things such as “low calorie”, “no HFCS”, “low fat”; the list goes on and on. One of my goals throughout this semester is to make these connections throughout our journeys, and try to trace the food on my plate back to its home base.