Feminism and the animal welfare are movements tightly intertwined. Like women, animals have historically been considered the “Other,” or “less than.” Our personhood serves as the elite leader in the hierarchy, deeming that non-human animals are less important than humans. But it wasn’t so long ago that women were also considered less than, only to be an extension of their fathers or husbands and unable to vote, own property, or make decisions independent of a man. Women were owned by men much in the same way non-human animals are today. There is perhaps an even a more specifically connection between farm animals and women, animals that are used for their commodification which is rooted in sexism. Today it’s estimated that the majority of people fighting for animal rights are women, suggesting a female-centric perspective between humans and non-human animals.
Chickens are arguably the most abused animals on earth, and viewed as one of the least deserving of ethical treatment and protection. Karen Davis argues in her piece Thinking Like a Chicken: Farm Animals And The Feminine Connection that “nonhuman animals are oppressed by basic strategies and attitudes that are similar to those operating in the oppression of women, it is also true that men have traditionally admired and even sought to emulate certain kinds of animals, even as they set out to subjugate and destroy them, whereas they have not traditionally admired or sought to emulate women.” Indeed, as Davis points out literature is ripe with examples of men emulating powerful creatures like the lion or whale while women are subjugated to comparisons to”weak” animals like the cow, or chicken.
As of January 1, 2015 in California all eggs are required to come from hens that have “enough room to fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.” While that might sound like something hens should already have the ability to do, currently 95 to 98% of eggs come from hens that live in over-crowded tiny “battery cages” which are smaller than a regular sheet of 8×11 paper, often times saturated in their own feces and without the ability to stand or exposure to natural sunlight. This standard of practice is called factory farming, which is indeed animal abuse. While California’s move to ban battery cages is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t deter from the fact that hens, even with slightly more room to move around, are still being abused. The obvious answer to most would be to buy “organic” or “free-range” eggs to ensure they are purchasing an ethical product, but even those eggs are a product of factory farming. Egg labeling basically means nothing in terms of the welfare of the hens and the quality of the product you’re receiving.
But if animal abuse isn’t enough reason for you to buy ethical eggs, consider the fact that most eggs you purchase from the grocery store are old, really old, subpar in terms of nutrition, and highly susceptible to diseases like salmonella. Due to the filthy conditions of most egg producing factories, the USDA requires that all eggs sold at grocery stores be washed at high temperatures and sprayed with chemical sanitizers to remove bacteria. This process removes the natural “bloom” coating that protects the egg from contamination and reduces its freshness. Chickens are, like humans, omnivores. They thrive on bugs in addition to their feed, which in factory farms (and even small organic farms) almost always contains soy, corn, and other fillers that don’t provide laying hens with the proper nutrition they need to produce good quality eggs. The only way to get truly ethical eggs from hens that are not being abused is to buy from a trusted local CSA/farmer, or if you have the ability, get some backyard chickens. Two good quality laying hens will provide on average a dozen eggs a week that will last months and don’t require refrigeration (at least not initially). Not to mention hens are easier to take care of than both cats and dogs (trust me on this one), and truly entertaining to have around. Chickens are smarter than most people realize, highly social, and form bonds with both humans and other animals.
Not only are eggs from backyard chickens ethical, they also taste better and are more nutritious containing “• 1/3 less cholesterol • 1/4 less saturated fat • 2/3 more vitamin A • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids • 3 times more vitamin E • 7 times more beta carotene• 50 percent more folic acid • 70 percent more vitamin B12.”
But if for some reason you can’t get access to local eggs, you do have some decent grocery store options. Whole Foods often carries brands like Vital Farms, which have strict pasture-raised requirements for all their farmers. Although these eggs aren’t cheap, they’re absolutely worth the price. Doing your research before you purchase eggs from the store is just one small way you can help by ensuring you’re buying an ethical product.
Although I’m not vegetarian, I consider myself vegetarian-ish with only a small meat intake that is quite limited, and someone that is highly concerned with not only the quality of my food but the ethical treatment of the animals that produce my food. I hope that like with feminism, the more people know the more they will demand change. Like sexism, farm animal abuse is rampant and ever present, and without demands for change the factory farm industry will continue to treat these intelligent autonomous creatures as nothing more than a commodity. My hens, Betty and Wilma (pictured above), thank you.