Since my recent post discussing how once-vegan Ellen Degeneres announced on her show that she gets her neighbor’s backyard chicken eggs, lots of comments poured in from folks with thoughts and feelings all across the egg-eating spectrum. My goal in writing the post was to foster respectful debate about this situation, and I was grateful to see that happen both here and on Vegansaurus (where I wrote another version of the post). Since there have been so many responses to my original post, I’m dedicating another post to discussing some of comments I received and including some more backyard egg info from experts.
A lot of us have strong opinions about this, and I have learned of many different perspectives on the issue. I thank everyone who commented here and elsewhere. I’m glad that most of us were able to talk about these issues in a compassionate way, because disrespectful dialogue gets us nowhere. Gena Hamshaw reminded me that it is possible to assert strong opinions or disagreement while remaining compassionate towards others. I always admire Gena’s courage in standing up for her beliefs, and I take her advice to heart!
I think every situation like this is an opportunity to a) find ways to educate and voice our beliefs, even in the face of disagreement, and b) stay true to ourselves while also realizing that others will do as they see fit.
Below, I’ve decided to share some of the other comments that stood out:
I must admit that I too indulged in the consuming of back yard eggs. I bought them from an old farmer who loved his chickens. He’d sell the eggs for a few extra bucks in his pocket. I was excited that I could eat eggs occasionally guilt free knowing that they were happy and well cared for. I asked him if they were raised for eating. He said he never eats his chickens. So I’d basically buy them for family and would eat one now and then myself. His hens have stopped producing for the last few months. He mentioned that he’ll get more if they don’t start laying soon. I asked what he’ll do with the others? He said so calmly that he’ll just ring their necks come January. I’m so sad for those poor babies. You just never know. A lesson learned for me big time! But believe me, he got an ear full. Maybe he’ll re think his decision. I know I have.
I think this speaks a great deal to the evolutionary aspect of many of our vegan journeys. While some of us go vegan “cold tofu,” many of us go back and forth and take time to figure out exactly what eating choices align with our ethical beliefs. It is also startling to see how our impressions of animal treatment can vary from reality, even from the nicest-seeming farmers and pleasant-looking backyard setups. Thank you, 1mamabird for sharing this!
Gena also noted the particular danger of someone like Ellen who comes from an animal rights background espousing the virtues of “happy” animal products.
Silly though it may be, people do feel motivated to go vegan and validated in their choice when celebrities are selling the lifestyle. And they feel nervous, insecure, and threatened when celebrities jump ship (which they so often do: Nathalie Portman, Lea Michelle, etc.). It’s a particular bummer because Ellen was an animal rights-oriented vegan, and this may encourage some of her followers to take the “happy meat/eggs/milk” route, instead of the vegan route.
Many others shared that they consider themselves to be (mostly) vegan, but do make some exceptions for eggs (which some pointed out would make them ovo-vegetarians, not vegans). Others shared they have eaten backyard eggs but no longer do for various reasons:
I’ve consumed eggs once since I started eating a plant-based diet: when I went to visit my parents, who have since moved to South Africa, where it’s not as easy to be vegan as it is for me in the UK. They have chickens in their garden, so I had no problem eating those eggs… I hope that Ellen is going to do the same thing if she does decide to consume eggs–but ultimately, it’s her business, not ours.
I have to admit… I am a vegan (or, was a vegan) who recently started eating eggs…My brother keeps a very nice, small farm with hens. I really don’t feel bad about eating the eggs from his place.
Chrissy wrote why she believes eating her chickens’ eggs is better for the environment than eating vegan alternatives:
When I compare the time and energy and environmental impact it takes for one of the chickens in my backyard to produce an egg, and compare that to the time and energy and environmental impact it takes to process soy into a block of tofu and ship it to my local health food store, well, the egg starts to look pretty good.
Ron G. said he doesn’t even trust his own backyard chicken eggs to pass humane/vegetarian standards:
Any egg producer who promises “free-range, vegetarian-fed” chickens is full of chicken droppings. The birds are devoted omnivores. I’ve even watched one take a mouse from my cat. Anyway, I’ve decided there are very few eggs out there which truly qualify as humanely produced, even from my own backyard.
Jess wrote on losing Ellen as a queer-vegan icon (something Our Hen House ladies were concerned about too):
Ellen has a huge cultural influence and this casual revelation is disappointing for people like my own partner who is testing recipes from a vegan cookbook with which both Ellen and Portia are closely associated. I think it is important to note that disappointment in this case doesn’t necessarily stem from expectations, but just from the basic fact that there are so few of us queer vegans, we feel let down whenever someone rejoins the mainstream eating practices.
Katherine said that Ellen wasn’t a true vegan icon for her even before the egg admission:
Ellen continued to participate in advertising for Cover Girl cosmetics, who are known animal testers. She also promotes Halo, an animal based, non vegan pet food.
Melanie wrote that we should stay positive and remember that Ellen may go back to all-vegan:
Most of us have a story of how we became vegan, and for many of us that process wasn’t a linear path. I hope that this is just a momentary diversion on the path for Ellen. The more that we can use this as a moment to educate ourselves and our communities about the truth, the more likely it is that some good may come of it.
Sandra Higgins, who runs a farm animal sanctuary, wrote this insightful comment which I have posted in its entirety because I think it’s just brilliant and so informative for those of us like myself who don’t get to hang out with chickens or know much about their basic biology:
I run a farmed animal sanctuary (www.edenfarmanimalsanctuary.com) which is home to a large number of hens rescued from backyard situations as well as caged facilities. I am saddened to hear that someone who proclaimed to be vegan and an advocate for other animals, partakes in the utter misery that chickens in the egg production industry endure.
Every egg laying hen had a brother who was killed by being gassed or ground alive because males are not useful in the egg production industry.
The fact that hens are bred to lay eggs greatly compromises their natural health. Naturally, and in the wild, hens lay two clutches of eggs a year for the purposes of rearing their young. Hens bred for the egg industry lay an egg every day. This is an onerous task, comparable to a human female having a menstrual cycle and childbirth, every day. An egg is quite a heavy object relatively speaking to the very light and thin body of the hen who lays it.
We regularly find blood on the eggs at Eden where the hen tore while laying it, similar to the way women can tear during childbirth. That is one of the reasons that eggs are washed prior to being given to humans to consume.
Laying eggs depletes the hen’s body of calcium and other nutrients essential to her health, resulting in conditions such as osteoporosis and broken bones. Evidence from x-rays at Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary show that the hens who were carried from their cages to us by their legs had broken hips and legs, and some of them had bones that broke and healed while in their cages. Can you imagine the pain of an untreated broken or fractured bone? Can you imagine the struggle to mind your broken limb from being jostled by your frustrated comrades? Can you imagine the pain of struggling to food and water on a broken foot or leg?
There are a varied of painful and fatal conditions that hens endure as a direct result of being bred to lay eggs in unnatural quantities. These include egg binding where the hen is unable to lay an egg either because it has a soft shell or it has become stuck somewhere in her oviduct or clocoa. Hens going through this experience huddle with ruffled feathers and refuse to eat or engage with their friends. They appear to suffer enormously. If the egg breaks prior to being laid the hen will suffer an infection called peritonitis. This causes illness just like any infection a human suffers. The hen’s temperature rises dangerously and she will feel exceptionally hot to touch. Her abdomen will swell with fluid in response to the infection leaving her unable to walk or move. Eventually her eggs will ‘cook’ in the heat of the fluid. As the fluid builds she will not be able to eat or drink as her crop will be squashed by the pressure from the fluid. Her lungs and other internal organs also become squashed and she will gasp for air. One can only imagine the pain she endures.
I have suffered extreme physical pain that could not be relieved by medication. I could not countenance inflicting such pain on another feeling, living being.
I do not eat eggs because I witness the horrible suffering that hens endure because we breed them to lay eggs in unnatural quantities in a way that causes them great pain.
I also do not eat eggs because I believe that the female of all species has rights and the hen has a right to her own eggs. They belong to her. They do not belong to us.
I hope Ellen, and other egg eaters, see my post and reconsider. We do not need to eat eggs. We have no right to eat the eggs of another being. Hens suffer if we do.
Lastly (thanks for having kept reading!) I am including this Q&A that is currently being developed (it is a work in-progress) by the wonderful organization Food Empowerment Project, posted here with permission by FEP’s lauren Ornelas:
Q: I don’t want to contribute to the suffering of hens in factory farms, so what if I raise hens in my backyard and eat their eggs?
A: While this may seem like a viable alternative to purchasing eggs, there are still very serious problems with eggs sourced from a backyard setting.
The first problem is where these so-called backyard chickens come from. Almost all hens who are bred to lay eggs begin their lives in hatcheries where there are no laws regulating how they are to be housed or treated. Like hens raised to lay eggs in factory farms, chicks in hatcheries are usually seen as mere production units.
Even before a buyer sees a single egg in their backyard, simply purchasing a backyard hen for her eggs contributes to a huge amount of suffering and death. Just as in conventional egg production, immediately after hatching, the males are often killed because they cannot produce eggs and are therefore considered useless to the egg industry. The female chicks, still just hours old, are boxed and shipped through the postal service without any food or water. (1) Male chicks, if they are not ground up alive or tossed into giant trash bins, have been used as packing filler to keep the “ordered” birds warm during transit. (2)
If a baby male chick who was intended as a mere packing peanut somehow arrives still alive or if he was shipped because he was mistaken for a female in the hatchery’s sorting process—which frequently happens as it is difficult to determine the sex of such young chicks—this leads to further problems.
The second significant problem is that many people do not understand the amount of time, energy and money it takes to keep backyard hens. The animals are still seen as production units, and even though these chickens are not in a factory farm setting, they are still undeniably being commodified. Many backyard hens are kept in more urban settings where finding a vet who will take care of the birds as companion animals versus as “units of production,” may be difficult or impossible to find, and it’s also not easy to recognize when these birds are sick, leading to more suffering for the birds.
Like all females, a hen will eventually lose her ability to be reproductively active and she will stop producing eggs. While a hen’s egg production typically begins to decline at two years of age (5), the natural lifespan of a hen is typically around 10 years, sometimes longer. (6) All chickens, including those past reproductive age, will require the same care and protection for their entire lives. Unfortunately, many people are no longer willing to invest the large amount time and money into caring for hens after their egg production declines, and so these beautiful and social birds die from neglect, abandonment, or slaughter.
Hens adopted from sanctuaries may not lay eggs at all because their bodies are so depleted from their experiences on factory farms or other egg-producing facilities. If they do, then they should be allowed to consume those eggs in order to help their bodies recover. While eggs are bad for human health, they are the perfect food for chickens. That’s the purpose of an egg–to feed the developing chick inside. Egg shells are high in calcium while the eggs themselves contain nutrients vital to chicken health. It would be a grave injustice if a bird rescued from an egg factory or egg farm were to be treated as an egg-producer by her adoptive family when what she really needs is to have total access to her body’s own resources and mechanisms for recovery.
Keep in mind that humans have absolutely no nutritional need for chickens’ eggs. In fact, chickens’ eggs contain cholesterol and saturated fat, which are detrimental to human health. A recent study by Western University found that when it comes to raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes, eating eggs is nearly as bad as smoking. (7) They are also completely unnecessary for baking for there are a variety of easy, plant-based options available that serve the same purpose in recipes.
If eating chickens’ eggs is not necessary, if it contributes to an immense amount of suffering, and there are so many alternatives, then why do it? Having backyard hens does nothing to truly take a stand against factory farming as animal consumption is at the core of this industry. The only way to take a stand against it is to go vegan.
Thank you for reading this post! I’ve hope you’ve learned something (I know I have!) As always, comments are welcome.