Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Posted by Mike Whenever I share anything about our chickens or their eggs, I invariably get yelled at by extremist vegans who ultimately accuse me of being "immoral" for raising backyard chickens so that we and our pets can eat their eggs. We are "exploiting" the chickens, I am told, "using" them. Doing so is morally reprehensible, they say. Before getting into what these well-meaning folks get wrong, I will start by mentioning some very important things they get right, most importantly, the ways we produce food are killing the Earth and many of the living things on it. Huge swaths of the planet are devoted to mass-producing crops to feed animals that humans then eat in a system that is highly inefficient and destructive to the planet. Furthermore, the animals themselves are generally housed and cared for atrociously, creating a large-scale inhumane nightmare for the billions of animals trapped in that system. In short, the way we raise and eat animals for food is literally destroying the planet while causing immense suffering.
Unfortunately, when some people wake up to this reality, they take positions that are equally unhelpful and extreme and fail to recognize that some of the alternatives to animal products are equally or more devastating to animals and the Earth. Are vinyl, rubber and plastic humane alternatives to leather? Hardly! The numbers of animals killed through the extraction of natural resources consumed and the production and use of the chemicals involve these alternatives wreck havoc on entire ecosystems. It is also worth pointing out that conventionally grown produce is also devastating to animals that are wiped out when they or their habitats are sprayed with toxic herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides or their habitat is destroyed to make room for crops grown to feed humans.
In other words: What vegans generally get wrong is in suggesting that all animal products are harmful and the alternatives are not. The reality of both is somewhere in the middle. Meat that is raised sustainably and in cooperation with nature is likely less damaging to the Earth than vegetables grown as mass mono-culture with toxic chemicals. Most importantly: It is impossible to raise crops without either farm animals or toxic chemicals.
The biggest mistake human kind has made with our agriculture system has been separating animals from our produce by moving them onto large, factory farms. By doing so, we have broken the natural cycle of the Earth in which animals provide a key part of the foundation of nutrition for the plants. The plants, in turn, nourish the animals. It is a magical system that works beautifully if you let it. And, therein we find one of the best aspects of keeping backyard chickens. Chickens consume much of our kitchen waste, help control garden pests and provide rich, nutritious compost for our garden. Sure, the eggs are great. More importantly, they help us to complete the natural cycle of the Earth on our little plot of land. They help us to leave a lighter footprint, making life better for us and animals. They also help us to connect more closely to and appreciate the complexity of non-human life. On September 22, 2020 a groundbreaking documentary film titled "Kiss the Ground" will debut on Netflix. It will delve into this topic, along with other aspects of sustainable agriculture. Our Urban Farm will be helping to host a local online discussion following a watch party for the film on that day. More details will be coming soon.
We can learn to live more sustainably and in harmony with the planet. That can and should include being better stewards of the animals. But it cannot mean cutting them entirely out of our systems and our lives. They are vital parts of it. We literally cannot live without them. And, we should not try to.