Karen Davis, International Respect for Chickens Day
Karen Davis, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that addresses the treatment of domestic fowl in food production, science, education, entertainment, and human companionship situations. She is the author of several books including Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry and More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality. Award-winningly profiled in The Washington Post for her outstanding work for the birds, Karen maintains a sanctuary for chickens on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. www.upc-online.org
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, hello everybody, Hi, I am Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food on April 29th, 2014. Gosh, last week was my birthday, and now it’s not. That’s a great week. A lot of great food, a lot of great vegan cake, of course, and now we just, it’s just every ordinary day for me. And that’s good. But, let’s make it special, okay, we are going to talking to some wonderful people today, who’s got some great messages to share. Right now, I want to bring out my first guest, Dr. Karen Davis, is the president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, a non-profit organization that addresses the treatment of domestic fowl in food production, science, education, entertainment, and human companionship situations. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Karen.
Karen Davis: Hi Caryn, I am delighted to be on your show today to talk about chickens and other domesticated fowl and go vegan!
Caryn Hartglass: Right on, so, I was at Veggie Pride parade in Manhattan of, last month, and I, several times, I chased you around just to give you a hug and tell you that you are wonderful, but I didn’t get a chance to do that, so I am sorry.
Karen Davis: That’s okay, it was a, there were a lot of people there, which was good.
Caryn Hartglass: It was, it was just …
Karen Davis: Freezing! Yeah, but still there were a lot people, and I was very impressed by the fact that, so many people sat in the fold out chairs listening to the speakers, despite the fact that it was cold and damp, and even began to drizzle, but a, that’s encouraging to me.
Caryn Hartglass: That was a really good point, and I don’t remember that many people. You’ve been coming year after year, if I haven’t, that was an excellent crowd, and it was a horrifically wet chilling day.
Karen Davis: Yeah. Good point.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I am glad people wanted to listen, and people, there are more people opening up, lifting the veil of discovering what isn’t so nice going on. And we are going to talk a little about that right now. So, your organization has a special day, International Respect for Chickens Day, let’s talk about that.
Karen Davis: Okay, sure, well, I started International Respect for Chickens Day May 4th, and expanded to the entire month of May in 2005. And that grew out of a radio show, where a radio host kind of made fun of the idea of a Mother’s Day being a respect for mother chickens day, so he was kind of friendly, but a little bit sarcastic. But anyway, I wrote to him and invited our members to write to him, very respectfully, but to bring out the fact that mother hens, are in fact, paragons of the best nurturing, most protective motherhood, and that we often hear mother hens, rightly, being evoked as exemplars of the best and caring kind of motherhood. So, the radio host actually ended up agreeing with us …
Caryn Hartglass: Woohoo!
Karen Davis: And said, well, maybe we should create an annual Respect for Chickens Day, and I thought, yeah, that is a great idea and United Poultry Concerns is going to do exactly that. So, starting in May of 2005, we established International Respect for Chickens Day to celebrate chickens throughout the world and to protest the bleakness and sadness of their lives in farming operations. And we invite people to do an action for chickens, on or around, May 4th. And we capitalize the word ACTION. We suggest that people find a way to fit speaking for chickens, doing something positive for chickens, in the course of their busy day. Or setting aside a day to do something for chickens. Meanwhile, urging that, everybody make everyday respect for chickens day. But, to , choose a day, this year is Sunday, May 4th, they’re about to do such things as leaflet on a busy street corner, hold an office party, or classroom celebration, write a letter to the editor of their local newspaper, or do a radio call-in, we urge people to consider tabling at their local church or their school or shopping mall, to host a vegan open house in their neighborhood, or simply to talk to family, friends, and even complete strangers about the plight and delight of chickens, and help people can help them. So that’s really what International Respect for Chickens Day is all about. To really focus on what chickens go through in that terrible conditions they are living in at this very second in food production operations, and to draw people’s attention to the fact that chickens are so sweet, and so friendly, and cheerful when they are not being abused, when they are out and about in the yard, and being treated with kindness and respect. So, it’s those two aspects of chickenhood that we seek to draw attention to. The suffering they endure when humans mistreat them and the cheer that they exude when they are happy and being treated with respect and being able to be out and about in the outdoors.
Caryn Hartglass: Karen, humans have a long way to go, in terms of, treating other beings with respect. Humans have a problem treating other humans with respect, and mammal are next in line, and fowl are perceived to be so far from many people’s concerns, which is really unfortunately, and we have so much to learn from so many animals out there. I am always amazed to find out the intelligence that every species has. And because we don’t have it, one type of intelligence, or ability, we don’t appreciate or know how to appreciate it.
Karen Davis: Well, you know, we tell people that, or that I tell people that, you know, we share so much with the other animals on the planet, and the more we learn about birds and water creatures and mammals, even increasingly about insects, we are learning that there is a community of sentient life, which we share, whereby we have our own special abilities as different species, and even as individuals, but there is so much we share in our perception of the world, our care for our families, our desire not to suffer pain and abuse, and to find joy in life. And, increasingly, science is showing conclusively, that, chickens and other birds, are as intelligent as mammals. That is, not just, in those strictly and exclusively, cerebral sense, although that is certainly part of it, but in their whole mental repertoire, including their emotions, their sensibility, and their cognitive ability to negotiate complex environment, to live extremely successfully in social groups, so , I see that we do have a long way to go, but I am also seeing that we are coming a long way, in changing our attitudes toward other species, including birds, and that science is showing not that these birds, and other animals, are less than we thought, but that they are so much more than mainstream, conventional thinking had thought.
Caryn Hartglass: You were mentioning earlier about Mother’s Day, and about how hens are such a great example of mother, what mother should be. Can you give some examples of what some hens have done that have just been amazing, as mothers?
Karen Davis: Well, yes, one important thing they do is they defend their young, and it’s kind of interesting that chickens are often called cowards, when in fact both roosters and hens are the very opposite of cowards, especially, when they are parents, they, both hens and roosters, guard the eggs, with the embryo inside, a mother hen will very carefully pick off any shell debris that is still sticking to her chicks as they are struggling out of the egg, which of course chickens who are being born in the huge mechanical incubator in the food industry, never get to experience that loving care, helping them to emerge successfully from their shells. Mother hen, like a rooster, will find to the death, if need be, if a predator is attempting to harm the eggs or the newly hatched chicks. Mother hens are excellent guardians of their birds. I once had a situation here, at our sanctuary, in Virginia, where there was a mother hen, now what happened was, we do not allow our hens to hatch eggs at our sanctuary. We gather the eggs, and we hard boil them and feed them back to our chickens, but in one particular case, a hen jumped the 8-foot fence, disappeared and then returned with a little group of chicks, this was a few years ago. Yeah, we thought, we didn’t know what had happened to her. She was gone, and then suddenly, she appeared with this little family. So, one day, I was sitting at the computer here, looking out the window, and my computer helper was upstairs working at the computer, and she had brought her large, very very passive and well behaved black Labrador to stay outside the yard while she worked upstairs. So suddenly I heard all this commotion going on, this hen was just, she just yelling and yelling at his Labrador, and so I walked outside, this was under a great big magnolia tree in the front yard, and so, here’s the hen, her name was Eva, and she was just flying and flying and flying at this black Labrador, who is kind of standing there bewildered. He really wasn’t doing anything, but, she perceived him as a threat, and she had hidden all of her baby chicks behind her under the magnolia tree. So she was ready to fight to the death, if need be, of course she didn’t need to, because this particular dog just kind of stood there, as I say, in a bewilder state of mind. but she kept it up for a long time. But, at the same time, any time, I would come near her and her chicks in the front yard, she was totally comfortable with that. She made a very clear distinction between the dog, who a chicken would rightly fear, even though many dogs are very benign toward chickens, but she was rightly afraid of this dog, but at the same time, she knew me and knew that I would never hurt her or her chicks. And she was quite comfortable letting me get close. But, you know, they have done a lot of experiments with chickens, demonstrating that chickens possess empathy, as well as sensitivity, and so forth, and for example, they, scientists have done experiment showing that if they feed hens, I am not saying I approve of this type of experimentation, I am just relaying it to your listeners, if they feed a hen a certain color food that is unpleasant tasting or possibly even toxic, versus a plate of food that is not that color, a different color, is just healthy and not toxic or bad tasting, they have found that the hen would immediately learn the difference between the two foods. But more importantly, she will teach her chicks to avoid the food that is the bad color food that is the bad tasting food. So, she is able to learn and transmit to her young, what she has learned in order to protect them from bad, or even, fatal experiences. So, that’s …
Caryn Hartglass: We can use a little of that, I think, with our food experiences.
Karen Davis: Yeah, I mean that’s just one of many examples. I am living with chickens all the time. I have kept chickens, rescued chickens, since 1985, when I took in our first chicken named Viv, the chicken hen, whose story is right on our home page on our website. And I see hens comforting each other, sometimes a hen will actually straddle another hen, have her wings down over the body of the other hen when the other hen isn’t feeling good. And when I see a situation like that, I know that the hen who’s being straddled is not feeling good, and that she’s being comforted by the hen who’s has her wings over her. It’s very touching too when the hens and roosters line up together at night on their poaching platforms. How often a rooster will actually have his wings spread around the hens, on either hot side of him. So, there is so much affection and communication amongst chickens all the time going on. Increasingly, it is now recognized that it doesn’t take rocket scientists, if you just live with them, you know, it’s pretty obvious within about a day, but the fact is, you know, since we live in a society that wants to hear what science says before people make up their minds about anything, well, science says what those of us who have been running sanctuaries, and living with chickens for years and now even decades, have seen every day, which is that chickens are very very socially sophisticated. They are very affectionate with one another. Now that doesn’t mean they don’t get into arguments, that doesn’t mean that even the hens will get into it into this, where their speckled feathers will be all raised, and they’ll jump over each other like two little band of roosters, you know? And, I never get involved in that because I know that, they have a right to express the full repertoire of their nature, as much as possible, without me always jumping in. And eventually, they have their little to do, whatever their issues may be with each other, and then it dissipates, and they end up doing other things. But I see the same thing with roosters, you know, roosters will get into, they’ll have face off, and they’ll have showdowns, but very very rarely does it ever degenerate into a serious fight. Especially if you have two healthy, normal-aged roosters, of two or three or four years old, they are not looking to fight, you know, they are looking to be with their hens, and find food, and sunbath, and dust bath, and forage because, you know, chickens are great foragers, they spend a great deal of their day digging in the dirt, they are looking for food, they like to explore, they find micro-nutrients in the soil. So chickens are busy all day, they’re busy finding food and exploring around the yard or in the wooded areas here at our sanctuary. And then in the, around noon time, they kind of take a siesta, actually, a siesta, you know, they lie in the sun, they sunbath, and dust bath, when dust bathing is how they clean their skin and their feathers. And then in the late afternoon they spread out again, and they forage for another hour or so before they start going in for the night at dusk. So, they have a rhythm of their day, they have a pattern of their day that they pretty much follow everyday. Again they are not fighting, they are just living their lives as zestfully and rigorously and cheerfully as they can!
Caryn Hartglass: They have a little expertise in conflict resolution, maybe.
Karen Davis: Oh, they do. They do.
Caryn Hartglass: Now you’re describing a handful of birds because most chickens today do not live like this.
Karen Davis: No, they don’t.
Caryn Hartglass: So I don’t like to focus too much on all that, let’s just, for the chickens, acknowledge some of the horrors that they are going through right now.
Karen Davis: Well, first of all, everybody should know that when we hear that, for example, in the United States, about 10 billion animals are slaughtered for food every year, we should keep in mind that, at least 9 billion of those birds are chickens. Now, many, millions die before they every get to the slaughter house of all kind of undiagnosed diseases, so, they are dying all the time, but chickens bred and raised for the meat industry represent the largest number of land animals being raised for slaughter for food. It’s chickens more than any other bird, in terms of numbers. And then, secondly, I should point out that we live in one of the largest chicken producing areas of the country known as the Delmarva Peninsula, comprising all of Delaware and the eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland. And we’re on the eastern shore of Virginia, where at any given time, a half of billion chickens are living in dark, sunless, filthy, 500-foot-long buildings. So, that if you drove around the main highway, going up an down the peninsula here, it’s only a 150-miles long, and 50-miles across, so this is a very, very tiny land area, but there are many, many more chickens on this land area, many more, than all the human beings on it, probably, all the human buildings in Delaware and Virginia!
Caryn Hartglass: It’s not comprehensible.
Karen Davis: Yeah. And, I mean, these birds are, it’s indescribable unless somebody is actually been in one of these houses, because first of all, as I said, the birds are kept virtually in the dark. They don’t want the birds to move, they want them to just sit there and become a huge piece of breast muscle tissue. They feed them a horrible diet. They even give them things to make them, these poor baby chickens, feel empty when they are really full so that they’ll keep eating and eating. All they want them to do is turn into a pile of meat. The majority of these birds are in very painful, crippled conditions, where they either cannot walk at all or can barely walk, by the time they go to slaughter. They are forced to grow many, many times faster than a normal chicken. And they are forced to grow many times larger than a normal chicken because you take a normal chicken who would barely weight a pound and be very very small at about a month old. And these chickens are already like four pounds, basically gaining about a pound a month. So, the burden on their whole body, on their skeletal system, on their heart, their lungs, their muscle, everything is just horrendous. And the cruelty is all inside of them, I don’t think we can even begin to imagine how miserable they must feel, how nauseated they must be all the time, with what is happening inside their bodies, these alien bodies that have been inflicted upon them just so they’ll turn into a pile of meat. And then living in a environment that is all filth, is all diseased organisms, microorganisms, salmonella …
Caryn Hartglass: I mean, they must be insane or crazy…. at some point
Karen Davis: Well, see, it’s so sad when you go into one of these chicken houses because, again, even people who haven’t been around chickens have a picture, a ancestral picture of whatever you want to call it, a baby chicks running all over the place, they are full of energy, they are just little bundles of energy, whereas, these chickens who are exactly the same age, are just sitting there like lumps of dough. They are huge, they are like small turkeys, they are just sitting there in the dark, it’s all sepia color beige, sort of environment, which is also, horrible to think about, because chickens have excellent full color spectrum vision. They see infrared light; they see ultraviolet light. They have better eye sight than we do. And, when you think about the cruelty of depriving creatures of sunlight, of any natural light, of any fresh air, and of any color, when their whole being is designed because they come from the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, which is just vibrant with colors, and there they are just sitting there, this beige environment, and literally that beige is mainly excrement in its various forms, so it’s an indescribably brutal, cruel and unforgivable life, that is being inflicted on these baby birds, all for a product that nobody needs to eat, and that everybody would be much better off, not having anything to do with.
Caryn Hartglass: I am in this because I don’t believe in killing animals. I don’t believe in causing pain and suffering, period. But, we are always looking for different ways to touch people and get them to come over to our side and pay attention and realize what’s going on and soft sell we can do. But you mention something about how they’ve, what they’ve feed to chicks so that they feel like they’ve an empty stomach, and they gain weight. And they do all these things to make the chickens grow faster. How is that impacting humans to eat these animals?
Karen Davis: Well, you know, again, so much is done, I guess …
Caryn Hartglass: Are we getting fatter because we are eating these …
Karen Davis: Yeah, well, here, there are several things. First of all, the chickens are given all kinds of things that aren’t even disclosed. So, a lot of it is just you can’t even find out all the information. But, for example, we know that these chickens are given, and turkeys too, are given massive amounts of antibiotics. Antibiotics have a tendency to increase the amount of water in the cells, the cells of the body, and also disrupts the micro flora in the intestinal tract, which has an effect of increasing the growth rate of the birds. And this was actually discovered, about, what 50 years ago, when a pharmaceutical company in, North of New York City, was throwing antibiotic residue into a river there, and they discovered that all these fish were growing to this enormous size, so various efforts were made to distinguish what particular element or item could be causing this. And it was finally discovered that particular antibiotic was the reason. Well, immediately, the poultry industry jumped on this, they saw an opportunity to cause their birds, chickens and turkeys, to grow at an even faster rate to a larger size. So, antibiotics are used extensively by the poultry industry. And it has been recently discussed by scientists, and it was on NPR a few weeks ago, that it’s quite possible that antibiotics are not only causing antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause people who become sick from, well, salmonella from eating chicken, no longer respond to the antibiotics because the bacteria have managed to mutate and surmount the effort that kill them, so that they are no longer susceptible to the antibiotics. So, we’re looking at a situation where people are getting sick from eating chickens because chicken and turkey products have been identified by the Center for Disease Control, the US Department of Agriculture, as the number one cause of food-borne poisoning in the kitchen, and by extension, in the restaurant kitchen as well. So, you’ve got people getting sick, just in February, the consumers report issued its latest study, I think they purchase at random 300 chicken breasts, including organic chicken breasts, and analyze them for salmonella, and 97% were covered with salmonella.
Caryn Hartglass: AAAAHHHHH!
Karen Davis: And, so what we are looking at a disease covered product, which is not surprising because the chickens are living in cesspools, long before they even get to the filthy slaughterhouse. And now we are looking at the fact that, in addition to antibiotics being given in such heavy doses to these birds, the antibiotics maybe won’t even treat the food-borne diseases that people get from handling and eating the birds, and in addition, maybe people’s weight is climbing up not only because they eat too much of the wrong kinds of things, but also because they may be having secondary effects from eating the antibiotics that they eat when they consume chicken products.
Caryn Hartglass: Karen, I’ve known about these things for decades that no matter how many times I see a video or read an article, it’s still unbelievable that these things go on and that people can do these things, but they do them for profit. And I am really encouraged by some companies that have come along, there have been lots of companies out there making vegetarian products, but the ones that are making some big headway like Beyond Meat and Beyond Eggs are looking to use plant foods to create these animal products, meat and eggs in order to take the animal out of the equation and make the same product for less money.
Karen Davis: Well, there’s no question that we’re seeing a big jump in interest in this society. In Meat Free Meat, if you will, what I call animal-free food, vegan, animal-free food, and what Ethan Brown, the co-CEO of Beyond Meat, I think he calls it animal-free meat, by which he mean that they are assembling all of the elements that are found in animal flesh and animal muscle tissues, in a purely plant-based composition, so that this composition has the texture of animal flesh while being strictly plant-based. They’re taking, getting all of the different nutrients and nutrients proteins and other things, and they’re combining them in such a way that they are saying they kind of literally have an animal-free meat because the plant-based meat is assembled just like animal flesh, but it’s not animal flesh, it all derives from peas, I think that’s a big part of it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, pea protein, yeah. It’s genius, and you know, unfortunately money talks, and in industrial food, that at the very least, can replace their animal materials with plant materials and charge, and have it be cheaper, I am all for that. Most people don’t know it’s in their food, they don’t care what’s in their food, I would like to believe there’s a growing group that want to become more aware of their food and don’t like how animals are being treated, but I really think the bottom line is money, and that’s where we are going to see some big head way. But Karen, we just have like, seconds left, so I want to thank you for joining me and can we direct people to your website for International Respect for Chickens Day and all the other great information.
Karen Davis: Yes, first of all, absolutely, our website address is www.UPC-online.org (for United Poultry Concerns), and when people go to our website, they will see right front and center a beautiful image of a hen with a baby baby chick under her wing who she is fostering, who came straight out of a Purdue Farm in North Carolina, and they click that image and they will have all the information they need on our International Respect for Chickens Day website, including the bus ads that we are running in San Francisco and in Washington DC, things they can do, everything is right there at UPC-online.org. And of course, if they go down, just scroll down a little bit, there’s lots of information, tons of information on our website, but they can also go straight to our Facebook page with the little icon that’s located. Life can be beautiful, go vegan and an entire booklet that people can read right on our home page, as well as if they want to learn more about the free range poultry and egg scam, they can click that right on our home page, and they can scroll through that brochure, and all of our literature that’s on our home page and elsewhere on our website and on our Facebook page is also available in print-form. People have many ways of reading our literature, getting hold of our literature, and the important thing is to go vegan and get others to join us to learn about chickens and turkeys and all these other animals and then go out and teach others and inspire others to want to go vegan and go beyond meat, to throw these parties and show people because now, for example, Ethan Brown of Beyond Meat, he’s been on national TV show, The Today Show and elsewhere, and he’s holding contest where people can’t even tell the difference between the real chicken breast and the Beyond Meat chicken, or they like the Beyond Chicken better.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, that’s what I love. Karen, it’s very very exciting, very encouraging and thank you for doing decades of very important work. Keep going and thank you for joining me today on It’s All About Foods.
Karen Davis: Okay, well, thank you Caryn. Stick up for chickens everybody! Bye!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, bye bye! Okay, I am Caryn Hartglass, you are listening to It’s All About Foods, let’s take a very quick break and then let’s start talking about paleo vegan, shall we? We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Queenie Tsui, May 24, 2014