Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Personal Aside re: Chickens and This Moment in History

Most of the time, I'm in pain.

This is not the ongoing disease I talk about in Letter. Rather, this is back problems that my father has and his father had (each of whom had at least one surgery). Ever since I was a little kid, I've had scoliosis in both planes, leading to regular pain. It is generally not debilitating (and I have a TENS unit – highly recommended), but like tinnitus, it is almost always there if I "look" for it.

I bring this up because of an ongoing discussion I'm having with some very intelligent and thoughtful individuals regarding advocacy focus and resource allocation. Specifically, why I rate the suffering of chickens as "worse" than that of much longer-lived farmed fish.

Contrast my back pain with other bouts of suffering I've experienced. Once, I was in so much pain that I slowly passed out. Other times, I've actually wanted to die. Several times, the pain was so much and had gone on for so long that I experienced a breakdown.

This acute suffering seems to me to be different in kind to my back pain, which can fade into the background at times. In contrast, I can't be distracted from or acclimate to the acute pain – it breaks me down.

In short: suffering is not an abstraction to me.

I think about chickens on modern factory farms in the same way. They have been selectively bred to grow absurdly fast and large. As Professor of Veterinary Medicine John Webster has written, “Broilers are the only livestock that are in chronic pain for the last 20 percent of their lives. They don’t move around, not because they are overstocked, but because it hurts their joints so much.” Many of them die before being taken to slaughter because of their warped genetics, actually suffering to death.

They can't acclimate to their suffering.

This is why I support campaigns to move to slower-growing “heritage” birds, even though this means the birds live longer (thus more "suffering years"). This does not mean that "slow-growth" chickens (or farmed fish) don't suffer. They do, and we should take that into account when making decisions about where to allocate our advocacy resources. But I would rather live longer with my back pain than have a shorter life with agony like a constant Crohn's attack.

I could be wrong.

There are other reasons why I believe that at this moment, we should focus on chickens raised for meat in terms of dietary change advocacy, plant-based and cultured meat production, and corporate campaigns for welfare reforms. One is because I believe chickens have a greater capacity to suffer than fin fish (a longer discussion).

The second is that I believe that we are finally primed to finally have a significant impact for chickens, in terms of society's concerns, institutional focus, and corporate reforms. This is not the case for fish (again, at this time).

I don't believe we should choose a campaign based on its neglectedness, but rather our likelihood of having a significant impact per dollar invested and hour worked at the moment. The shocking success of the campaign to abolish battery cages shows that we are better, as a movement, when we focus together on one thing. We have long built to this moment, and we should pursue, as strenuously as we can, this opportunity.

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