Gay icon Ellen Degeneres broke my heart a little bit today when she casually revealed during a recent segment on The Ellen Show that she’s no longer vegan. In an interview with Grey’s Anatomy actress-come-backyard chicken wrangler Ellen Pompeo, Ellen Degeneres said:
“We have neighbors who have chickens, and we get our eggs from those chickens because they’re happy.”
While I was admittedly saddened that one of our amazing vegan-queer icons is no longer a vegan, I am glad that Ellen admitted to her egg eating, because I think her belief that eating eggs from chickens that are “happy” is common among the elite Eco-conscious set in Hollywood and beyond. The belief goes a little something like this: Happy chickens = happy eggs = we can all eat eggs and no longer be vegan but still be ethical eaters, because, hey, the chickens are happy, right?!
While many would never eat flesh and went vegan because of the horrifying ways that the egg industry is tied to the poultry industry and the dairy industry tied to the meat and beef industries, some consider the notion that there are in fact cases where chickens happily give up their eggs to humans and that these chickens and these eggs are somehow ok to eat. Whether you’re in favor of an Abolitionist approach to veganism or if you fall into The Humane League camp that spends its time and money advocating for cage-free “humane” eggs (which it turns out is an almost meaningless category when it comes to whether cruelty is involved), the truth is that backyard chicken farming can be downright dangerous for humans, especially in some cities where unsafe lead levels may get into eggs eaten by humans. The New York Times recently reported in an article entitled “High Lead Found in City-Sourced Eggs” that backyard eggs–what Ellen referred to as eggs sourced from “happy” chickens–can test very high for detectable levels of lead within the city limits:
Preliminary results from a New York State Health Department study show that more than half the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike store-bought counterparts. (Source)
I believe that there may be conditions where chickens are raised kindly by humans. I have seen these conditions with my own eyes, on friends’ farms and at farm animal sanctuaries like Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Woodstock, NY, which is where all proceeds from the upcoming Queer Vegan Cookbook will go. I will not use this space to debate whether a chicken can be happy giving up its eggs to humans in any circumstance. What I want to share is that many, many vegans are considering eating backyard eggs, raw “humane” milk (I see this a ton in the raw food movement, especially while I was working for 2 years at an all-vegan rawfood retreat center where many folks who visited and who worked there chose to eat trendy raw animal products). As a vegan movement, we need to address this issue with intelligent studies and science showing the dangers of eating backyard eggs, the environmental impact of advocating for backyard eggs, and the gross potential for mistreatment of chickens when they stop producing eggs.
Carol J. Adams suggested I title this “Why Celebrities And ‘Happy Chickens’ Don’t Surprise Me,” which in retrospect is a much better title. While I commend actresses and performers for wishing to care for chickens and treat them humanely, I wonder what will happen to these chickens when they stop laying eggs, or if they find lead in the eggs? I have a hard time thinking that every Hollywood eco-conscious person will suddenly want pet chickens once they stop producing–will they then justify turning them into “happy” humane chicken meat? It’s a slippery slope.
I am grateful to Ellen Degeneres for all of the work she has done to help animals, even if I disagree with her choice to eat backyard eggs. I am glad that she has come forward with her egg-eating, and hope that we can use her story as a springboard for having a real discussion about the implications of backyard chicken husbandry.
What are your thoughts?