Of cock fighting, Michael Vick and chicken nuggets

I’ve been reading Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, a book about how humans interact with and view animals in their lives, anthrozoology. It’s no guilt trip, and it never waxes sentimental, but the author does point out some of our hypocrisies when we deal with animals.

For instance, cock fighting. We all know that cock fighting is cruel, and when we hear about someone getting busted for it, we tend to think, “Right on! That bastard!” But do we bat an eyelash when we mosey on over to the nearby fast food chain and order up a batch of Chicken McNibbles? Do we realize that by consuming that chicken, we are supporting an even crueler fate for those chickens than the ones who died in the cock fights?

“Rachel,” you say, “Slaughter isn’t the same as cock fighting.”

Damn right it isn’t. Let me tell you about the life of a fighting cock. I knew people who raised fighting cocks growing up. I never went to a fight, but I saw the kind of lives the birds had and the attention their caretakers showed them. There were no pitch-black feeding tunnels, only sunny pens or little hutches with tethers. The birds got to peck, scratch in dirt, mate, and if they got sick, their owners would tend to them. In short, they got to be chickens, and they lived healthy, normal lives (until a fateful match, naturally). After all, a sickly, sad, beaten bird can’t fight. But it can go to slaughter.

Compare that to the life of the birds at a Perdue farm on the Chesapeake coast. They live in lightless tunnels, standing in their own filth. The grow so fast that their bones are paper thin and break easily when being slung into crates for the trip to the slaughterhouse. And instead of dying in a fight with another bird, they get strung up, and sometimes aren’t even dead when they get dunked into the scalding bath before plucking, essentially being boiled alive. They live only six weeks, not six years or even six months.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that fighting chickens is kind or acceptable. I’m not trying to glorify it, and I’m sure not all people raising fighting cocks are doing so merrily in idyllic pastoral settings. But I find it amazing that people can get their hackles up over cock fighting, even demand that the farmers involved be persecuted for animal cruelty, but those same people don’t demand that the share holders at Perdue get tried on similar charges.

Everyone was shocked when they found out that Michael Vick was fighting dogs, but we were even more shocked when we found out that he loves animals. But he had to be a cold, evil, animal-hating bastard to do something so awful and cruel, right? Quite the opposite. Most people who own fighting animals really love them. But they’re in this weird headspace where they don’t see what’s going on as being wrong or cruel. It’s the same headspace we’re in when we passively consent to the torture and slaughter of hundreds of thousands of birds to feed ourselves and our pets. It’s the same headspace Perdue’s farmers are in when they look at their huddled, sickly, overbred, heaving masses of chickens. It’s something Temple Grandin refers to as “bad becoming normal.”

“Bad becomes normal” when you’re so used to a bad situation that you think that that is the status quo. For instance, my first job as a web designer was in a shop with some very introverted developers. I always felt sad and lonely and left out. I ended up at a new place with a bunch of more socially skilled developers, and I realized, “Wow, that place was really depressing! I didn’t realize how things were supposed to be.” Farmers who only ever see miserable living conditions believe there are no better living conditions possible.

We’re appalled by animal fighting because we aren’t used to it. If we were raised in communities where it was “normal,” we’d probably have no problem with it; same as we have no problem with eating birds from a company who doesn’t even put pictures of chickens on its web site. However, in a fighting community, you’re more likely to have a “this is wrong” moment after watching the grizzly outcome of a match, but you’ll never have that moment with Chicken McNibbles because the only outcome you witness in this community is tasty, breaded, and comforting. You never see the suffering. The companies involved don’t want you to have that moment of conscience, and they keep the aftermath hidden from sight so you can ignorantly continue to participate in what is a bad and broken slaughter system.

All said, I love chicken nuggets. I love eating them. But when I hear about cock fighting rings, instead of getting enraged and climbing onto my soapbox, I look down at that chicken nugget in my hand, and I feel guilt because I know I’m committing a far greater sin.

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6 Comments

Sarah

careful there! this is the exact chain of logic that led to me becoming a vegetarian :)

Steven Donaghey

a typically measured AND passionate post, Rachel. as i recall from earlier days, you had a substantial amount of real-life interaction with our poultry friends, and you always seemed to deal with it in an unsentimental yet distinctly decent fashion, and i always thought of that as a fairly ideal mindset. so when you speak on these matters, i appreciate your take. thanks for the thoughtful post, Rachel. the blogosphere is always a better place for having you in it.

Will W.

Well said! I wrestled with a lot of the same thoughts for a really long time. It took me an equally long time to realize that eating meat is just.. optional. I could opt-out! No need to be strict or dogmatic about it, I could just choose to avoid being a part of the whole mess, and my friends would still love and support me – as good friends always do.

It seems really obvious now, but it was pretty life-changing at the time.

Beatriz

One of the things that most Americans in my writing workshop remark is how damn effing hard eggs are in France. Apparently, in the US you can crack an egg with one hand. Here it is almost impossible, and there are metallic spoons and Dragon Ball moves involved. I believe that it has to do with the kind of life that the chickens lead before popping the eggs out, and the kind of nutrition they get. Better nutrients, harder shells. There was an exposé on TV the other day where the reporter Told France that some of the birds were being fed more corn than the others to make their yolks more yellow. The scandal! I wonder what they would do if they saw what Perdue’s poultry eats.

There is a fantastic book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (you would love her work!) that talks about the year she moved from Arizona to Virginia and decided to eat only things that grew in season locally. That meant giving up citrus most of the year and banishing bananas, but it also meant that she got to raise and nurture her own chickens and turkeys. She has many interesting insights on how it is good to eat a chicken that has lead a fantastic life, and a special chapter on turkey sex and how most Butterballs don’t get any because they are incredibly deformed birds. She mentions the way Perdue chickens are fed, how many infections they catch and all the antibiotics that are mixed with their fodder that are actually bad for fighting infections on the long run and can result in stronger, antibiotic resistent bacteria landing in our food. And not only chickens, but cows, and fish, and corn and potatoes. Her tale is hopeful, but since I read it I sworn off MacDonalds and I make sure that I know where my meat comes from. Chicken McNuggets and KFC have suck a nasty texture that I could only eat one morsel before swearing them off forever.

That said, I come from a country that considers bull fighting an art form, but I have never sympathized with the toreros that get corned in their family jewels. Raising animals to put them in a ring to entertain bored humans, given what we know now about animal neuroreceptors and pain, and considering all the other entertainment alternatives that are available to us is sadistic and extremely immoral. A fighting cock raised under the sky, enjoying the company of chickens every other day and eating grass and worms for lunch would be better off dying in a brief crack at the hand of a farmer for supper than fighting for their life in a tiny arena for a bit of cash and a laughter. Yes, a cock would fight in nature if left to his own instincts. But it is not the same as a rational human using them for fun when the human has so many other damn options to choose from to have a laugh. I understand that with this comment I am attacking people that you know and that are probably good, but I can’t help but wonder if your discourse would be the same if cock fighting was an extended practice with corporations behind and the cocks were having steroids and an hyperproteinized diet, like poultry-cyborg gladiators.

If you follow that line of thought, both KFC, chicken McNuggets and cock fighting fall in the same moral bag. A person needs chicken McNuggets as badly as he needs two cocks fighting in his garden. There are so many other options to choose from that picking the one that involves animal suffering is a very, very bad choice.

Then again, it is not hypocritical to point out a fault with the world just because there are many others that need to be sorted out first. That would be like giving up on recycling because you sometimes forget to turn off the bathroom light.

Xena Carpenter

I think your idea in the paragraph that you say “we were more shocked when we found out that he loves animals,” is a bit simplistic and takes a long leap of faith. Love is an action as well as a thought and at that time Michael Vick didn’t have the maturity to “love animals,” in my opinion. I understand that this is not black and white and that people can have two opposed mental ideas coexisting as well as Temple Grandin’s idea of “bad becoming normal”…I have lived that, but I don’t think that when you throw a dog (or a person or whatever) against a wall and them wrap it’s feet with wire and electrocute it, as Michael Vick did when his dogs refused to fight, falls anywhere near the catagory of loving animals. i understand that your article is about how people see what they want to see and can practice hypocrasy and ignorance, but making Michael Vick’s cruelty a quick token example is too easy.

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