The Hen Or The Egg?

The Hen or the Egg? You Decide..

During January’s Vegan Feast a wonderful question was asked by one of our lovely volunteers:

I understand why you don’t eat normal eggs (battery cage hen eggs), but why can’t you free range eggs?”

Well it’s about time we had some content about the food politics on the website since we see veganic food as the most important factors in this century for unifying the world’s people. So lets return to this question, why can’t vegans eat free range eggs? This is a question commonly pondered by dairy and egg eating vegetarians, and is a question that most ethical vegans have contented with at some point, especially those who transition from being vegetarian to becoming an ethical vegan. Understanding the answer to the question is paramount in being able to progress with confidence. In this respect we might consider vegetarianism as a kind of halfway house, the cocoon stage where we cultivate the understanding necessary to transform, necessary to break free, free from the mental slavery and system of exploitation that until then we are enbondaged. So lets go yo!

Vegetarians often find themselves in this ‘halfway house’ dilemma which for many, leads them to becoming fully fledged vegans. Most people recognise the ethical reasons why people exclude meat from their diets, but dairy, eggs, honey? Let us focus on eggs first since that’s the question.

Sure, it seems there are one or two fairytale farms where hens are well looked after, well fed, have lots of space and so on. They will inevitably lay many eggs. If these eggs are not eaten by us then surely they’ll go to waste… the hens aren’t caged, there seems to be no cruelty involved, so what’s the problem?

Hmm, okay fair enough, so those of us who can access those eggs first hand from the farm can be assured that the birds laying them were not harmed, and at least had a good life until slaughtered for meat. There may be some lucky elite hens allowed to live out their natural lives but for the 99.99% the chances are they’ll wind up on the meat aisle of the local supermarket.

So now we’ve got a situation where maybe 0.5% of the egg eating population that can access (or afford) these ‘high grade’ eggs, but what about the remaining 99.5% of the egg eating population? We’ve now got is a situation where eggs from better treated hens are consumed mainly by those on a better income. This creates even more demand on affordable eggs whilst contributing to the existing social class divide. Egg producers do all they can to pass their battery hen eggs off as farm fresh, so their customers don’t have too much of a complex about eating them, and not been able to afford the ‘better’ ones. By the way, practically all eggs used commercially, in processed foods or from pre-cooked outlets are of course the cheapest, battery cage hen eggs. So then, if someone could afford to pay the extra for something cruelty free, why take it off the shopping list?

Its a matter of principle. It would be great if everyone who wanted to, could access cruelty free eggs (although not from a health point of view). But in reality the demand is so high, especially for things that ‘the others’ can have, even if it means buying the cheaper version. The few farms that do provide ‘cruelty free’ eggs are unable accommodate the high demand and the only way the demand can be met is through the factory farming of hens. This sadly results in the majority of hens serving life sentences in battery cages and enduring some of the worst living conditions imaginable. There are hell houses to put it nicely. So just buy free range, there not that much more expensive, are they?

It is often said that the birds used for free range eggs have it just as bad if not worse than caged birds, since they are not separated by cages but rather, are crammed together in a relatively small space/barn where they spend most of their lives, maybe getting an hour or two of daylight or fresh air a day. These hens also undergo all manner of violations, such as being debeaked, having the ends of their beaks melted off with a hot blade etc. Okay, that’s obviously not very nice, but what about organic farm eggs as mentioned earlier, fresh from the farmers market, the ‘really cruelty free’ ones?

Yes although these birds will still be getting slaughtered the vegetarian reasons that in principle eggs can be derived without cruelty, hens naturally lay eggs, so regardless of how the birds are treated it’s not such a bad thing to consume eggs. So although many vegetarians have ethical concerns about animals being killed for human consumption, they take comfort in the fact that it is technically possible to access cruelty free animal products. Yes although these birds will still be getting slaughtered the vegetarian reasons that in principle eggs can be derived without-

cruelty, hens naturally lay eggs, so regardless of how the birds are treated it’s not such a bad thing to consume eggs. So although many vegetarians have ethical concerns about animals being killed for human consumption, they take comfort in the fact that it is technically possible to access cruelty free animal products. So although many vegetarians have ethical concerns about animals being killed for human consumption, they take comfort in the fact that it is technically possible to access cruelty free animal products. Hence, they’re in the halfway house dilemma. If people choose to be vegetarian for ethical reasons, then the next logical step, if they wish to be consistent in their stance against animal cruelty is neither to buy nor consume/wear animal products as a matter of principle and consistency since not to do so feeds into the very same cruelty that they oppose. Sadly, all animal derived products are a byproduct of the meat industry, or in where animals are used for their byproducts, once they pass their prime, they are nevertheless headed for the axe and become a byproduct of humanity’s lack of regard for other sentient beings.

And so, in the same way that we tend value the milk and cheese over the cow that produces it, and the honey over the bees, so to we value the egg over the hen. This results in hens being artificially inseminated as the industry requires an abundance of female egg laying birds, the male chicks goes into the grinder alive. This is the sad reality of the so called cruelty free egg. You cannot accommodate whole populations without mass producing a product, and you cannot mass produce sentient beings without subjecting them to a what is of more often than not, a short miserable and painful life. This is what compels many to become vegan rather than settling for a ‘halfway house’ vegetarian and is why we don’t eat ‘cruelty free’ eggs. It is only the tip of the iceberg and part of a larger problem about humanity’s relationship with nonhuman animals.

Speciesism is quite a complex phenomenon but one whose consequences wreaks havoc in a multitude of ways; sending out confused messages about how we are to treat some differently from others – the consequences for health are drastic, also climate chaos and environmental degradation are all intertwined with our cruel and confusing relationship with non-human animals.

Veganism is a practice that stems way back over thousands of years, indeed there is good evidence that we and our ancestors were mainly vegetarian if not completely herbivores. One only has to consider the cheeky chimpanzee, and other primates. Nevertheless, the term ‘vegan’ was coined in the mid-1900’s by the founder of the Vegan Society Donald Watson, who described it as:

a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude as far as is possible and practical all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food clothing or any other purpose.

So What About Honey?

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