A CHICKEN is not A VEGETABLE
One of the most common misconceptions about vegetarianism is
that vegetarians eat chicken. Chicken has a reputation as a "health
food" due to its low-fat content. So why shouldn't we eat chicken? To begin
with, vegetarians never eat chicken. A vegetarian is one who does not eat any
animal flesh, and chicken is just as much an animal as a cow or a pig. But
definitions aside, it is unwise for those who care about health, the
environment, or animals, to eat chicken.
FACTORY FARMED CHICKEN
Almost all chicken meat in the United States is produced
through the "factory farming" system, in which animals are closely
crowded together in filthy, disease-ridden conditions. Because of these
unhealthy conditions, many chickens die even before they get to the
slaughterhouse. For example, in an operation with 100,000 broiler chickens,
approximately 250 birds die per day. Before being caught for the trip to the
slaughterhouse, food and water are withdrawn; at the slaughterhouse, birds wait
in trucks another 1 to 9 hours to be killed, sometimes in very hot or very cold
Chicken is far worse than beef in terms of contamination and
bacteria. The Atlanta Constitution reported in 1991: "Every week
throughout the South, millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green
feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and heart infections,
cancerous tumors or skin conditions are shipped to consumers." Salmonella
is present in over one-third of all chickens, and many millions of Americans are
infected each year. The symptoms of salmonella poisoning are very similar to the
flu (though only occasionally fatal), and thus many who are infected may never
even be aware of what they have. To prevent these problems, chickens are usually
heavily dosed with antibiotics (more than half of all antibiotic use in the U.
S. is on factory farms!), but this indiscriminate use of antibiotics in turn
helps create resistant strains of salmonella and other disease-causing germs,
decreasing the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight human infections.
HEART DISEASE, CANCER, AND MEDICAL COSTS
And even if bacterial contamination were eliminated, we still
have the tremendous problems of heart disease and cancer, the leading causes of
death in the United States. Repeated efforts to lower cholesterol levels through
switching from beef to chicken have ended in failure. Chicken is somewhat lower
in fat than beef, but it still contains quite a bit of fat and even more
cholesterol per calorie than does beef or pork.
Moreover, meat which is lower in fat is always higher in
protein, and excess protein is damaging to health just as is excess fat. Chicken
which has 29% of its calories as fat contains 71% of its calories as protein,
while ground beef which has 49% of calories of fat has 51% of its calories as
protein. In terms of excess protein consumption chicken is worse than
beef or pork. Problems caused by or related to excess protein consumption
include kidney stones, kidney disease, osteoporosis, bladder cancer, and
lymphoma. Chicken meat also completely lacks fiber; lack of fiber is linked to a
variety of digestive disorders ranging from constipation to colon cancer. The
three basic problems with our American-style diet—too much fat, too much
protein, and lack of fiber—are thus all made worse by chicken consumption.
Those who switch from beef to chicken are at best trading one set of health
hazards for a different set.
Chicken has done little for the nation's health. In the past
twenty-five years, we have seen a huge increase in poultry consumption; but
health care expenditures during the same period showed phenomenal growth, now
costing us hundreds of billions of dollars each year in the United States. The
"switch" from beef to chicken has evidently had little, if any, effect
on rising medical costs.
Raising chickens affects the environment as well. Feeding
grain to chicken may be somewhat less inefficient than feeding grain to cattle,
but it is still wasteful—you must feed at least three times the amount
of protein, calories, and other nutrients to the chickens in the form of plant
foods than you retrieve in animal flesh at the end. Each year millions of
children die due to malnutrition or starvation, and yet the Western countries
continue to waste this grain by creating more and more chicken flesh.
Moreover, chicken production results in incredible quantities
of manure; a one-million hen complex produces 125 tons of wet manure each day.
Animal agriculture in the U. S. produces many times more waste products than
humans do. In many areas of the country livestock manure causes dangerous
contamination of the drinking water due to nitrates. Even when used as a plant
fertilizer, chicken manure can cause difficulties, as in Texas several years ago
when cantaloupe fertilized with chicken manure caused sickness in human beings.
The fault lay not with the cantaloupe but with the disease-ridden chicken
COMPASSION FOR ANIMALS
And what about the effect of the "factory farming"
system on the animals themselves? Over 7.5 billion birds are killed each year in
the United States. We would probably like to believe that these animals at least
lived fairly comfortable lives until they were taken to the slaughterhouse, and
would also like to believe that chickens are then quickly and painlessly killed.
Unfortunately, this is not true.
Chickens are crowded together in cramped, windowless sheds,
and must breathe concentrated excretory ammonia fumes which damage their eyes
and lungs. They are mutilated by "debeaking"—the practice of cutting
off most of the chicken's beak when the chicken is young. The reason for "debeaking"
is that without it, chickens in their cramped circumstances would peck each
other and even attack and kill each other. Obviously, a chicken which needs to
be "debeaked" in the first place is not a happy chicken; and the
process of debeaking (akin to partial amputation of a human finger, without
anesthesia) is quite painful in itself. Birds are deliberately bred to gain more
weight than their legs and feet can support, leading to more pain.
Turkey production is no better than chicken production.
Turkeys, like chickens, are kept in intensely overcrowded quarters; they must be
heavily dosed with antibiotics, are subject to many diseases, and have their
beaks and their toes partially amputated (without anaesthetic, of course).
Turkeys over the years have been bred to be fatter and fatter; today's turkey is
so overweight that it cannot mate and must be bred through artificial
"Humanely raised" poultry avoids some of the worst
abuses, such as debeaking and overcrowding. But chickens and turkeys are still
killed long before their natural lifespan has elapsed, and it still is not a
healthful food, as meat from any chicken or turkey—no matter how
"humanely" raised—is going to be high in fat or protein (or both),
and completely lacking in fiber.
Chickens do not die easy deaths, either. The "humane
slaughter" laws do not cover chicken or any other poultry. Slaughterhouses
are operated as mechanical "disassembly" lines with as little human
intervention as possible. Stunning devices are not required by law, and even
where used only 1/3 of the chickens are effectively stunned. Some chickens have
their throats slit and bleed to death while fully conscious. Millions of
unfortunate chickens also escape the automatic knives that slit their throats,
and thus go into the next stage—the scalding tank—alive and fully conscious.
A HEALTHY AND COMPASSIONATE ALTERNATIVE
The process of "factory farming" poultry in crowded
circumstances results in sick and highly stressed birds, and a food which makes
millions of Americans sick each year, due to salmonella, heart disease, cancer,
osteoporosis, kidney stones, and many other of the "diseases of
civilization" which are causing medical costs to soar year after year. But
it is also a wasteful food and a cruel food. Nobody wants to know about, or hear
about, the life and death of chickens. But (as Peter Singer points out in Animal
Liberation) if it is unpleasant for us to think about, what can it be like
for the chickens to experience it?
Vegetarians, by contrast, suffer less from heart disease and
cancer; and not only do they have to worry less about dying, nothing had to die
for them. There are many problems in the world which we feel we can do nothing
about; but the systematic cruelty to chickens, committed on a massive scale
which defies comprehension, is not one of them. If we become vegetarians, we are
not participating in this cruelty and we are the better for it as well.
—Keith Akers and Kate Lawrence
Try this cruelty-free alternative:
1 1/2 cups chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cooked
2 1/2 cups brown rice, steamed
2 bread slices
1/2 cup chickpea (garbanzo) broth
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. peanut butter
2 T. oil
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
2 T. onions, finely chopped
seasoning (salt, celery seeds)
Preheat oven to 370 degrees. Mash and blend beans, crumble
bread slices, mix well with other ingredients, and form into croquettes. Roll in
bread meal, sprinkle with oil, bake for 45 minutes, and serve with gravy or
—From Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey by Karen
To learn more about poultry substitutes or about
vegetarianism in general, write or phone:
Vegetarian Society of
P. O. Box 6773
Denver, Colorado 80206