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.


Op-Ed: Legal backyard slaughter in Oakland? Screw that!  »

This backyard livestock slaughter thing in Oakland is serious. There are actually folks advocating that Oaklanders must be allowed to raise and kill animals to eat because—well—they don’t even know.

One such advocate group is the Oakland Food Policy Council. In its recent “Statement on Urban Agriculture" the OFPC indicates strong support for "the integration of animals into urban food production systems because they provide products that can improve the diets of Oakland’s residents (e.g. fresh milk, honey, eggs, and meat)." "Integration of animals into urban food production systems"? Can I get a translator please?

"Integration" means we allow animals to be crammed into backyards throughout Oakland. Some of these animals will be named, stroked, and cuddled before they are killed, while others will suffer a more factory-farm-style life of abuse and neglect—just in a different zip code and (hopefully) without thousands of their cousins alongside them. They all meet the same fate, though, because these Oakland animals have now become part of the "urban food production system".

"So what’s wrong with that?" they say. "I’m hungry and I need to eat meat." Well, a few things are wrong with that, particularly in a dense urban environment like Oakland:

  1. People don’t need to eat meat, certainly not people living in the Bay Area. Eating animals here is a choice.
  2. My grandparents had a farm. It was roughly 250 acres. They had cows, sheep, and chickens. Each animal group had its own section, the cows with the most room to roam about. Which brings up one of the big problems with urban livestock: Is there a 250-acre backyard in Oakland? If your Oakland backyard is like mine, there is room for a couple of tomato plants and a crappy commuter bike. Where do we fit the chickens, sheep, goats, cows, rabbits, ducks, geese, quail, etc.? It is cruel to force animals into small cages for their entire existence—we don’t allow people to treat dogs or cats this way.
  3. There are undoubtedly many farmers who legitimately care about their animals. But having seen some of the heinous things people do to the animals we call pets in Oakland, I cannot fathom the level of abuse against so-called livestock animals in Oakland by the folks who really don’t care. Even if the livestock animals are not abused in the same way as the pets (seems unlikely but let’s assume it’s true), the simple designation “livestock” results in a whole new category of violent and disturbing treatment. For example, why is it OK to breed chickens and goats in your backyard and throw away the male offspring, when the same practice applied to dogs and cats would be considered outrageous? And even if there were tight restrictions, who would be there to enforce them? Animal control is already overburdened with the existing cases of abuse, neglect, and abandonment of pets. How could they possibly have time to peek into every backyard to make sure the chickens can still walk or the goats have enough room to turn around?
  4. It’s not just about you when you live in an urban environment; our neighbors have needs as well. One of those needs is to be free from disease and pandemic. Animals packed into backyards will attract other unwanted animals, like rats, that can quickly infest an entire neighborhood. Another urban neighbor’s desire is to live in an environment without offensive odors or sounds. I don’t mind the sound and smell of a pig, goat, or chicken, but some people do, and I have to imagine pretty much everyone would have a big problem with the terrified screams or squawks of a animal being killed next door. Forget about escaped or abandoned animals cruising Telegraph Ave.—what about feral chicken colonies?
  5. f you really want to “improve the diets of Oakland’s residents” encourage a plant-based diet. There is ample and compelling evidence that meat isn’t good for you. No need to rehash it here; watch the movie Forks Over Knives, you’ll get the point.

So yeah, I have a problem with the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals as backyard livestock, the possibility of disease and nuisances like feral chicken colonies, the awful cries of an animal in fear of its life reverberating through my neighborhood, and the inability of any authority to stop it. I’ll have to act in opposition to the “integration of animals into urban food production systems” in Oakland. Please join me in signing and sharing the petition to "Prevent the Proliferation of Backyard Livestock and Animal Slaughter in Oakland." We need to let the good people who run Oakland know that we’re all for a sustainable and healthy food system here, but the extreme suffering and killing of animals cannot possibly be sustainable or healthy.

Tim Anderson is a proud citizen of Oakland where he lives with his partner, their three dogs, tomato plants, and an herb garden. He is a regular volunteer photographer with Oakland Animal Services. If you want to get involved with all this nonsense, you can email him!


Say WHAT, Novella Carpenter?  »

Oh, dear. This woman, Novella Carpenter, she’s just your average middle-class white American afforded all the opportunities that comes with this status, yet she chooses to play “farmer held down by The Man.” It’s really only privileged white people who “choose” to be poor, isn’t it? Like it’s some powerful social act? But, you know, when they want to travel around the world, they travel around the world, and when they want to go to grad school, they go to grad school, and when they want to feed a hen 8,000 grain-calories to produce just a dozen eggs, they do it and claim it’s all in interest of improving food security. Being poor by choice has its advantages!

I could’ve given two shits about Carpenter until she had to go and make some unfounded claims about “animal people” calling the city of Oakland on her (allegedly) illegal-farm-having ass AND NOW I HAVE TO CARE ABOUT THIS WOMAN, GODDAMMIT. Ugh, all I wanted to do this morning was eat my Wheatabix and watch an episode of Arrested Development in peace and NOW THIS SHIT.

Carpenter gets dimed out for some shady farm shit—selling food when she hasn’t got a permit—and it’s front page news! The Chronicle is on her team. Super, I don’t give a fuck. But then she gets an email from some person saying it was probably animal rights people who turned her in and she posts the letter on her blog and says yes, she assumed it was in fact those meddling animal-lovers! Carpenter, don’t say that bunny lovers are after you because some person who sent you an email BELIEVES that they PROBABLY know who turned you in. What if I sent you an email telling you I BELIEVED that it was PROBABLY Willie Brown who did it? Or that it was a neighbor who secretly hates you? Maybe it’s even someone who hates animals and wants them gone? Who knows! Don’t go spouting bullshit against animal-lovers because you got some email tip from someone who believes they might know something. And then later, she’s like WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG!? to the animal people, after she straight called us out on her blog. As Kanye says, that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation.

Also guys, you know what else is low? When the city of Oakland dude told her she was being taken to task for breaking the law, she responded, “What about City Slicker Farms? Or People’s Grocery? I asked, two urban farming non-profits in Oakland. No one has complained about them.” So uh, she just dragged the legality of City Slicker Farms and People’s Grocery into a talk with a government official? Now who’s the snitch?! Wow, maybe it was another urban farmer who turned her in because they are equally petty? I wonder. Not to mention, those are two places that are WAAAAAY more useful than she’ll ever be.

This is my favorite part: “I’ll have to spend countless hours of my time (making it my 4th low paying/no paying job) so you can have a new law to enforce when one person (with money and power probably) complains about another person’s private activities. I just want to grow food for myself and other people, I don’t want to go to meetings and speak bureaucrat talk.” Um, Carpenter is a person with money and power. She has the extremely lucrative commodity of media coverage at her fingertips. I mean, she’s bitching about chard and it’s front-page news. Here’s some real news: actual oppressed individuals cannot spawn media shitstorms at will. And I’m sure as someone who studied under Michael Pollan at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, she’s got that bureaucrat talk down better than most, so cry me a goddamn river.

And really: Welcome to the world! I don’t want to register my car because it’s expensive and a pain in the ass—alert the media! If I let that registration slide and I get caught and my ass gets handed a ticket, I don’t like it, but I don’t whine “poor me” and I don’t get front-page coverage in the Chron. I also can’t open a retail store in my residentially zoned apartment WOE IS ME. Also, if she wanted to be more generous with this whole thing, at least she could say something like, “Good thing this is happening to me and not someone who really needs the food and actually can’t afford the time and money needed to lobby. I have the ability and power to seek (my version of) justice.”  A bit of fucking perspective is all I ask. You’re not some chard-martyr.

But the worst part is, in a follow up post, Carpenter encourages people to raise (and slaughter?!) their own food under the radar? I’m actually way more comfortable with these activities being overseen; I don’t trust the idiots who order chickens in the mail to take that shit seriously. Carpenter might have the time (remember! She has no real job! She’s just a simple farmer! With a book deal!), skills, and money (yes, it takes a good amount of money to raise chickens, whether it be for eggs or meat), but most people don’t. So yes, I do want laws dictating how and where people in my city can raise and slaughter animals. I’d like more laws surrounding animal agriculture in general, whether it be factory farms or you new American farmers who want to eat your pets. Given the horrific treatment of animals pretty much everywhere, we need more oversight, not less. Self-policing isn’t working.

If you can kill an animal that you raised with kindness and love for no other reason than it tastes good to you, well then you kinda freak me out. So, yeah, I’ll continue to spend the majority of my time railing against factory farms, but just like you, Carpenter, I’ve got extra time, and so heeeeey what’s up, girl! If you want to team up on factory farming issues (and hell, even organic farming issues), holler, I’m all for it. However, don’t drag “rabbit fanatics” into this and force me to read your blog. I was much happier having no clue who you are.

To tie this long-ass rant up, a picture of a cute-ass bunny, Surya, who is up for adoption at SaveABunny (Sorry, Carpenter, she’s not for eating, she’s for snuggling!)
Blog post title gaffled from the always awesome Say what, Michael Pollan?


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