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Chickens Rule

Chickens Rule

(Clicking any of the underlined text in blue will take you to a reference on it.)

Ethical consumerism” is the idea that no purchasing decision exists apart from some moral choice, that every consumption decision is ultimately moral in nature. Under that doctrine, each of us has personal moral liability for all harms, at whatever distance away in space or time, which occur as a result of his consumption choices.

For those of us who treasure meat as part of our diet, chicken is often our most ethical choice. Producing chicken meat consumes less resources than competitors: it takes about two pounds of grain to produce one pound of live chicken. By comparison, around seven pounds of feed are required to produce a pound of beef, and farmers exchange three pounds of feed for a pound of pork. An added advantage is that chickens grow quickly under factory farm conditions, which can turn a day-old chick into a five-pound broiler in six weeks. Plus hens lay eggs, which are great sources of nutrients and staple ingredients of many recipes, both simple and sophisticated.

The June 2012 Smithsonian Magazine has a long pean to the familiar bird titled “How the Chicken Conquered the World: The Epic Begins 10,000 Years Ago in an Asian Jungle and Ends Today in Kitchens All Over the World – The Mighty Little Bird that Powers Modern Civilization.” We learn that the chicken is a sacred animal in some cultures, was first domesticated 10,000 years ago, and in 2004 became the first descendant of the dinosaurs to have its genome completely mapped. The world raises more than 50 billion chickens a year as a source of food, for both meat and for eggs, with intensive farming techniques generating 74 percent of the world’s chicken meat and 68 percent of chicken eggs.

Factory farming presents its own ethical consumerism issues, as this blog discussed in a previous post. A chicken’s existence in modern meat factories is much different than his ancestor’s on my grandparents’ small farm 60 years ago, where the chickens were very active and had run of much of the farm as their kingdom. Modern chickens are bred to grow such heavy white-meat breasts that they have problems even standing as they are crammed together in small cages, sometimes in constant darkness. One alternative to intensive poultry farming is “free range” farming, which is still very far from the chicken’s life I saw. So there is a moral choice between humane treatment of chickens and the benefits of factory farm techniques – supplying a great many people with adequate meat and eggs. There are also human environmental concerns flowing from the intense concentrations of nutrients, waste, and drugs factory farms use, and the farmers’ answer is that such mass-production methods are essential to bringing enough cheap food to enough family tables.

We can’t live without eating plant-animal products that someone has harvested, usually with significant costs to the environment. It’s a matter of degree, and the goal is to continue eating well, but at minimum costs that must be paid with other creatures’ suffering and by deterioration of natural systems.

Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.


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