January 30, 2008

The "Free Range" Myth

So, I mentioned a couple days ago that I had started buying free range chicken and eggs to cook with. I was feeling good about it, thinking (like most people do) that I was buying meat and eggs from happy, healthy chickens who, while they still had to die for me to eat, at least lived natural lives. Last night I was tranquing out on YouTube and somehow a search that started with drop spindle spinning demonstrations led to some videos of factory farmed chickens. I did not subject myself to these - I've seen the beak clipping, the disposal of male chicks, the over-fat chickens, etc. So, to make myself feel a little better, I searched for "Free Range" chickens, and I was surprised and saddened by what I found.

It turns out that chicken whose meat and eggs come from "Free Range" or "No Cage" farms are basically treated exactly the same as factory farmed chickens. The public is being mislead (by the big companies and our own consciences) to believe the myth that I outlined above, that these animals live in a chicken heaven and die quick, relatively painless deaths. For someone like me, who is considering vegetarianism but doesn't know if they can kick the meat habit, "Free Range" is marketed as the humane alternative. And as much as I want to believe that, it looks like it's just not the case.

I'm not going to post any gruesome pictures here. I don't think there is any point in broadcasting that kind of negativity. If you want to learn more about it though, here's a blog for an animal sanctuary called
Peaceful Prairie, which provides care for rescued farmed animals. It is pretty informative. They don't beat you over the head with pictures just for shock value, but they don't sugar coat the situation either. Also, they have a lot of great links to resources for those who want to become vegetarian or vegan.

I guess the only way to know you're consuming well-treated animals is if you see the farm they're coming from personally. Ten years ago I spent a summer living in
Bamfield, BC, (one of my favorite places on Earth), a tiny town with a population of 200 and one 4-way stop. I stayed with my friend's aunt, who raised chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. Every morning we went out to the hen house to gather eggs for breakfast. We only took what we needed and there was always enough. The hens weren't manipulated to breed abnormally quickly. At night they went into the hen house (to keep them safe from bears and cougars) and during the day they had the run of the farm, along with all the other birds. So it is possible to raise chickens naturally for meat and eggs. Unfortunately, given how many of us there are, it's not realistic to expect that could be the norm for the industry.

Anyway, I intended for this to be primarily a knitting blog. I don't mean to harp on this, but I just wanted to share what I had learned because it really surprised me. As for me, vegetarianism is starting to look like the only option I can deal with...

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slowtalon said...


I've come across this too, remembering that REAL free-range eggs have orange yolks, so I was surprised when I bought some free-range eggs from the big grocery store and the yolks looked yellow, like a normal egg. There is definitely something being misrepresented there. I know that some of the local delis sell "free range" eggs from local farms, and I suspect that these are much closer to being Bamfield quality.

Kallia said...

I'm having some internal issues about a lot of this as well, lately. Have you read Omnivore's Dilemma? I highly recommend it.

There are still some places out there that do have true free range animals, but the trick is to find them.

Suzer said...

I don't know where you live (city, suburbs, country) but I can bet you could find a farm within a reasonable distance, to buy eggs from. Even if you live in a city you probably have an organic, or health food co-op nearby.

I am fortunate enough to have a farm right down the road. Not only do I get the satisfaction of knowing the chickens are happy and healthy, but I am also helping to sustain local small businesses. Plus, there's something very cool about having your food supplier know you by name.

Try that at your local Walmart!