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.



Parents Raising Free-Range Vegans: You’ll Eat That Nugget, and Like It?   »

Parents rule. Literally, they’re supposed to be the rule makers, the head of the household, the buck stops before somebody gets grounded. But sometimes, like last night’s parental usurping by BalloonBoy Falcon Heene (“we did this for a show”), kids know best.

Highly publicized accounts of vegan parenting gone tragically wrong muddle the ongoing debate: should parents raise their children vegan? My favorite vegan parenting philosophy, told to me by the parent of a two-year-old being raised animal-free, “Right now, I’m in charge of what goes in her mouth. If she wanted to eat dog poop, I’d stop her. That’s my job while she can’t decide.” Disclosure: Despite the number of adorable sprites populating my friends’ Facebook feeds, I have no kids. I have also eaten dog poop, but I WAS two at the time, and the memory only exists in legend. It underscores the notion though: tiny kids just don’t know better.

What happens when kids are a little older and do know better? Blame it on the information age if you want to use the pejorative—but kids have access to more knowledge and are making corresponding life realizations earlier. Whether it’s more middle schoolers coming out of the closet, or more kids raised on chicken nuggets deciding, while still sitting at their parents’ table, anything in nugget format isn’t food—how should parents react?

This week, Huffington Post blogger, Donna Fish, wrote a post entitled, “Help! My Daughter’s a Vegan.” She launched in right away, “Am I supposed to be happy about this?” continuing to say that thinking about food too much seems “dogmatic and obsessive.” A mom who loves her T-bones she acknowledges she’s playing dietary roulette, citing the ground-beef paralyzed dancer, but meh—cheeseburgers are good! The conflict of an omnivorous parent of a veg child is summed up, “I have had to go against the fact that I hate that she is doing this, and support her.”

And then the kick-cringer: “Maybe it will just be a stage.” This isn’t a unique reaction. Longtime vegetarian Mike tells of a similar parental response: “My mom told me ‘it won’t last.’ That was 13 years ago. Does that make me veg out of spite?”

When a child makes a decision in opposition of a parent’s beliefs, to what extent are parents required to support it? On the scale from allowing it to happen, to making sure there are veg options on the grocery list and soy milk in the fridge, it strikes me that hoping it’s a stage is on the patronizing side. If a child is old enough to articulate that they don’t want to eat animals and provide an age-appropriate reason, to undermine that assertion of self, logic, and compassion is to prove that they’re not willing to support other expressions, be they “I’m gay” or “you made all of Colorado look for me while you made me hide in the garage.” Not cool. But, it takes a village (I hear.) Even if we don’t have kids ourselves, we can still be solid vegan role models for kids who might not have them at home—and a resource of info for parents who might be facing parenting a turned-veg kid. Maybe buttons? “I’m a Vegan, (Let Your Kid) Ask Me How.”

How supportive were your parents (or friends or significant others) when you vegged out? Is support important? There’s plenty o’ room for your coming out stories below…

P.S. If you’re a parent whose kid has seen the veg and you’re figuring out how to support their decision—whoooo! Here’s a treat for the trick or: the Top 10 Vegan Halloween Treats. If your kid wants to dress as a chicken instead of eat one, filling up their pumpkin it’s as easy as those good ol’ ABC123s.

This is the latest article in a recurring series, The Vegan Diplomat; The Art and Politics of Being Vegan in any Situation Society Throws on Your Plate, brought to us by the lovely Zoë Stagg. Zoë writes about politics, pop culture, and social media. She went cold-tofurkey—total omnivore to vegan on April 26, 2006 and never looked back. Despite her rural upbringing and the fact that her dad may have wanted her to enter the Dairy Princess pageant in high school, she firmly believes in the conservative nature of veganism. Her last non-vegan meal was a Turkey Lean Pocket. Ew.

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