Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Every other week I have to wake up at 3:30am on Mondays and Wednesdays to work from 4-8am. I patrol my campus, keeping an eye out for…well I don’t see anything all morning. But my eye is out there, and the way I manage to keep it open is by listening to one of my favorite radio programs: the hilarious Free Beer and Hot Wings Morning Show. If you don’t know the show, it’s too hard to explain it, but they often have interviews with some very interesting people. This morning they were replaying an interview they had a in the past with a man who is part of PETA. The reason they were talking to him was because this guy legally changed his name from whatever it had been to “”

Yeah, that’s a pretty dumb thing to do.

But, as you would hope, is a real website, and it is devoted to getting the real KFC to use more humane practices in raising its chickens. The radio hosts had a lot of fun pointing out how ridiculous this guy was, and they eventually turned to making fun of vegetarians and describing how much they wanted to eat popcorn chicken (one of my favorite foods of all time). A timely thing for me to hear I thought. They also mentioned that if you actually went to the site, it had so many gross things on it you would not want to eat chicken for at least a little while. So, as I am sure many of you will do, I went to the site. Obviously.

It is not that gross if you expect to see the transformation of thousands of animals into food. It’s bloody and full of injury and death for the chickens, but nothing truly shocking. What was truly disturbing though was an undercover video they made of some chicken factory employees throwing chickens against a wall and stomping on them for fun, then going to a party to celebrate being factory of the year. Those people just have problems as human beings if they enjoy that, regardless of animal rights. I hope they don’t have children. Now, this is the point where my discussion of this topic can go basically two ways. I can express furious rage about the way we treat animals, or I can act like it doesn’t bother me at all. There is a lot of gray area in between there, which is where I actually find myself, but this issue is so charged that any tendency you display in one direction is usually interpreted as a firm stand for the extreme position. So I will move to a tangent that interests me personally and keeps me out of the two angry camps.

As you should know, Devin and I did not try this vegetarian thing because we are part of PETA or angry at anybody, but I do have my own concerns as an aspiring biologist about the practice of raising chickens. Last spring some high up person from the Center for Disease Control came to speak here at my school. He was in charge of the department heading up the investigation into the avian flu. He was an amazing speaker. I think he had given his speech a few too many times because he could talk a mile a minute, pacing back and forth excitedly while clicking through hundreds of flashy images and moving graphics without even looking over his shoulder once (and he was always right on cue). The gist of his speech was this: factory bird farms are virus mutation factories. Seriously, if we wanted to see how quickly we could generate new viruses, we would probably create a giant chicken warehouse, except it would be contained as a biohazard facility instead of maintained as a source of human food. By putting hundreds of thousands of birds in one room without sanitation or ventilation, we roll the dice on how many times a bird virus can mutate before it becomes dangerous to birds, and maybe even humans. Keep in mind that by dangerous I mean capable of wiping out 40% of the population. We obviously aren’t trying to do it. Farmers are not thinking about pandemics when they raise chickens, and especially in places like China, chickens sell faster than you can grow them. But if one day we are faced with a plague of historic proportions, we may have nobody to blame but ourselves.

So here is what I have to say about chickens: Go ahead, pack them into trucks, hang them up by their legs, slit their throats on an assembly line, remove their feathers with boiling water, do what it takes to provide billions of people with chicken on a regular basis, but be responsible at all costs. When we have the foresight to avoid catastrophe, but money talks us into sitting on our asses instead of taking preventative measures, we have failed to act as a species and as a community, and our priorities have become grotesquely backwards.

You don’t have to be a nut-job to be worried about these things. You just have be one of those people who would do anything to keep their grandchildren from living in fear. I think there are a few people like that left.

1 comment:

Tyler said...

"... and continuing down this road .. (perfectly timed pause for dramatic effect) .. could lead the end of human civilization."

You're right there are still people who care about this