OMG: Ellen Degeneres Admits She’s An Egg Eater  »

As I wrote on my personal blog today five minutes after I found out, Ellen Degeneres 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.

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?!

Because many of us vegans follow “all the news that’s fit to print” and therefore know that all the eggs are shit to eat, we can all now recall a recent New York Times article that showed backyard chicken farming is downright dangerous for humans, especially in certain cities. You can also read our Vegansaurus post about the study showing eating backyard eggs is like swallowing little lead-filled bombs.

I’m admittedly hella disappointed my queer vegan mentor has gone eggy, but Ellen’s admission could be a great springboard for the vegan movement to have a real debate about this weird backyard egg fad. As a vegan movement, we need to address this issue. I suggest doing tons of studies and throwing mad science at the debate by exposing more of the health and environmental dangers of eating backyard eggs, not to mention the big potential for mistreatment of chickens when they stop producing eggs. 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.

What are your thoughts?

This is Sarah E. Brown’s latest post! Read more by Sarah on Vegansaurus, and visit her personal blog, Queer Vegan Food.


Your Precious Backyard Chicken Eggs Are Lead Bombs  »

Listen up, Alanis: Here’s something actually ironic. Those fancy New Yorkers who keep chickens in their yards because the eggs are so much healthier might be poisoning their unsuspecting children with that scourge-of-paint-and-pipes, lead. BUMM-er.

The New York Times has the full scoop, but I’ll save you the carpal-tunnel of having to click and save myself the effort of having to write by copying and pasting the nut graf right here:

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.

Now, I don’t wish lead poisoning on anyone, and I am also of the opinion that eating eggs from backyard chickens is about a zillion times more humane and less environmentally devastating than eating factory-farmed eggs. Nevertheless, go ahead and add this to your quiver of arguments as to why it might be just the bestest most best idea to the leave the eggs alone. Drop it! Drop the egg! Now walk away and no one will get poisoned!

[Link via the incomparable Ken Layne. Photo by wooleywonderworks via Flickr]


Trashcan tilapia? Come on, omnivores  »

"This tilapia is one of the largest Toole has grown at The Point in Hunts Point, the Bronx."

DNAinfo has a story on “the latest trend in urban farmsteading”: raising tilapia in trash cans. Christopher Toole, the self-styled “Johnny Appleseed of fish,” has been working on small-to-medium-scale urban farming of tilapia for selling and eating. You know, like growing greens in discarded tires! Or backyard chickens! Though unlike backyard chickens, everyone only wants little male tilapia fish—having females “will result in large populations of small fish”—so commercial breeders use hormone therapy to turn baby female tilapia into male tilapia. Science!

I am into self-sufficiency, but I have never heard of homegrown tilapia before. Is this actually a thing? Raising foot-long fish in garbage bins in a converted parking garage in the Bronx? Toole uses the fish waste “to grow mint and basil,” and “teach[es] local children, most of them from poor local families, how to grow their own food.” Forget Johnny Appleseed, he’s like the savior of the Bronx! The new “teach a man to fish” is “teach a man to raise fish in his urban environment”!

Or maybe this is just as disgusting as it appears.

[photo by Jon Schuppe for DNAinfo]


Still life with backyard chickens  »

So much talk about keeping chickens these days! I spent four months living in a developing country with intermittent and unreliable internet and I come back to find everyone’s gone crazy for chickens.

I lived on a small farm for two months, with three pigs, three cows, one dog, and about 15 chickens (…two monkeys, one father, six turtles, and me). The chickens had a big, hay-filled, covered roosting area, and they were free to run around the rest of the yard, which was big. They had a lot of room to roam.

Living with these birds, I learned that I don’t particularly like chickens. They’re noisy, they poop everywhere, and roosters are TERRIBLE. Terrible! Just crowing at any old time of day and mounting the chickens all over the place. You know how short, jerky dudes are compared to roosters? Totally accurate. I only ever had peace after they removed the rooster’s head to eat him over the Easter weekend.

Eating the chickens requires severing the connection between your heart and your stomach. Maybe people who eat meat have already done this, but raising chickens from hatching only to kill them for supper takes superior rationalization skills. The children I lived with were masters of it, having kept edible pets their entire lives. They “loved” the piglets, and they knew one day they’d eat the piglets. When a giant box with 100 day-old chicks arrived in the house in April, the kids and I fed them and cuddled them and played with them.

"What will we do with all these baby chickens?" I asked one day. Ana, reading a book, had her two favorite chicks sleeping inside her sweater. She considered. "They are meat," she said.

"Oh!" I said. "That’s sad." "Because you don’t eat meat," she said. "Yes," I said, "And anyway it’s sad that they will die."

"Yes," she replied, "but meat is delicious, so…" She smiled, rolling her eyes a little; I did not get it.

I still don’t get it. I especially don’t get why people in cities and suburbs would want to keep chickens. The birds won’t be happy in tiny yards; neighbors won’t like the sound or smell or sight of killing chickens. These concerns have been addressed quite ably in comic and essay (and snide blog post) form, and most recently on KQED’s Perspectives series by our hero Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Even more seriously, people who are currently keeping backyard chickens are poisoning themselves and their families with chicken-borne salmonella. All that to eat fresh eggs?

Even if you like chickens, keeping them in sub/urban environments is a big responsibility that most people aren’t prepared for. You’re not Novella Carpenter, you don’t have a book deal that affords you the plush life of staying home and complaining about things all day caring for your livestock. And if you do, be like us and start a blog. At least learn some new eggless recipes. There’s no reason to keep chickens stuffed in your tiny backyard like a murderous slumlord.


Backyard chickens are making children sick. Seriously, kids are being hospitalized. Yay, urban homesteading! Yay, Salmonella!   »

The next time of your locavIDIOT friends is all, “OMG I totally want backyard chickens and in related news I am a total idiot!” you can be all, “READ THIS FIRST, IDIOT friend.” 

Salmonella isn’t just for factory farms anymore, folks! Thas right:

Infected chicks and ducklings have sickened 71 people—more than half of them younger than 5—in a growing multistate outbreak of salmonella that now involves two different strains of the bacteria.

Eighteen people were hospitalized with “SEVERE DIARRHEA.” In related news, that’s totally the name of my punk band. Also: EW GROSS. 

Will backyard chickens make you and your children sick with the shits? And maybe worse? We’ll let this chicken answer for us:


Guest post: Food accessibility is a vegan issue  »

I was sitting at my desk, staring at my coffee, when my co-worker walked in with a bag of cherries and said, “God, organic fruit at the farmers’ market is fucking expensive.”

At least we have a farmers’ market nearby selling local, organic fruit and vegetables, I thought, and my co-worker has the resources to buy some. When discussions of veganism and privilege come up–as they seem to be doing with increased frequency—there’s some understandable defensiveness from vegans, and some valid concerns that the “veganism is for rich white people” trope is both wrong and insulting to anyone not rich or white. But there remain striking differences food access across communities. This should concern everyone, but especially us veganism advocates.

A recent survey [pdf] by the very rad Food Empowerment Project (FEP) lays out the data. Looking at Santa Clara County specifically, they found that:

“On average, higher-income areas have twice as many locations with fresh fruits and vegetables compared to the lower-income areas…14 times more locations with frozen fruit and six times more locations with frozen vegetables.… In addition to being generally less available in lower-income areas, the variety of produce is also limited in these locations.”

Some of these findings are helpfully laid out in chart form:

Other sections point out things that should be obvious to those of us who live, work, or generally exist in urban cores, but are worth stating plainly: there are fundamental differences between supermarkets and small corner groceries; meat and dairy alternatives are virtually nonexistent in many communities, despite high levels of lactose-intolerance in some of those populations; that, along with being “cash-poor,” many providers in low-income communities and communities of color are “time-poor,” way too overstretched by multiple jobs and responsibilities to travel to a distant shop for decent produce, return home, and prepare dinner. The FEP study calls this “environmental racism.” Check out the full thing, along with their recommendations, here [pdf].

Your ability to make healthy food choices shouldn’t depend on your address or income, and lack of access to fruits and vegetables amounts to a public health crisis in many places. The growing trend of farmers’ markets accepting food stamps is a welcome development: by expanding access to good food rather than restricting access to junk, it’s also a much smarter, and less paternalistic and classist way to encourage people to eat well. (Another option would be to eat all the locavores, provided they were humanely put down, with reverence for all that they would provide us, but that’s a topic for another post.)

As vegans, it should matter to us especially. When we tell others to go vegan–which we should–it’s crucial to consider what barriers might stand in their way. Some are ideological, reflective of long-standing habits and assumptions, but some are more practical, like whether they can get to a market that sells non-gross apples. The ability to do so does mark a sort of privilege that needs to be recognized and dismantled, even if anti-vegan internet goofballs like to cite it for their own purposes.

And finally, concern about food security and access shouldn’t be the domain of a borderline-sociopathic “locavore” community that seems to raise these issues only to argue that we need to kill chickens in our yards. We shouldn’t cede that ground (sign a petition against at-home chicken-slaughter right now!). Everyone deserves decent food, produced sustainably, locally, and without poisons, and vegan advocates should be on the frontlines of that push. The FEP’s work is a good place to start.

Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday.

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