From Cage to Burrito

by Jacey Lanier

Every night at work one of the many tasks I have to complete is marinating the chicken we will need for the next day. Looking down at the massive bowl of chicken one night it struck me that this delicious-looking bowl of meat was once an actual living creature. Multiple actual living creatures, to be exact. Did they get to run free through fields and socialize with other chickens, or were they trapped alone in a cage for their whole life? I work at a very popular Mexican chain restaurant. We serve our food in a build your own format with prices based on different meat options. These options include steak, shredded pork, smoked beef brisket, shredded beef, and of course, chicken. Chicken is the most popular of all the meat options. We go through roughly six to ten cases of chicken a day. Each case contains four inner packs with ten pounds of chicken each, which adds up to forty pounds of chicken per case. Every night we have to prepare this chicken so that it marinates overnight and tastes delicious the next day, which is one of the many tasks I perform working for this restaurant. I got used to it because it’s something we have to do every single day, but one night I realized that the meat I am marinating used to be living, breathing chickens and I suddenly wanted to think a lot more about where these chickens came from before I put that food into my body. I did the math and based on my research, the average chicken is roughly five pounds. Around sixty percent of that five pounds is meat. This means that each case of meat that I marinate holds roughly thirteen dead chickens. That’s one hundred and thirty chickens every day. 

That may seem like a crazy amount at first, but in reality, billions of chickens are raised and killed to be eaten in the United States every year₃. These chickens are often raised in horrible conditions, confined to a very small space in a room with no windows₁. As a result of this, they are unable to socialize as they normally would and can exhibit violent behavior towards each other₁. They are also given small doses of growth-promoting drugs and antibiotics, so that they grow as large as they can, as fast as possible before they are eventually killed₁. They may suffer from respiratory conditions because of how close they are kept together and the low-quality air that they breathe in these facilities₁. They may also suffer broken or disfigured legs and wings because of how close they are together and the violent behavior that they sometimes exhibit towards each other₁. This can also be a result of their rapid and unnatural weight gain, which can cause their legs to break because they are unable to support the weight of the chicken₁. The unnecessary antibiotics they are given have other consequences as well₄. They allow for bacteria to develop new antibiotic-resistant strains that can infect chickens, other animals, and even humans₄.

This is an incredibly widespread issue that might seem difficult to remedy₂. Fortunately, there are already many organizations working towards more ethical treatment of chickens₂. One such organization is PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)₂. PETA is funded by donations and focuses on four specific areas in which animals are treated cruelly, one of which is the food industry₂. They work through educating the public, investigating and reporting cruel treatment of animals, rescuing animals, lobbying for legislation, and organizing protests₂. Two of the most important methods listed above are educating the public and lobbying for legislation₂. Much of the public does not know about the extent of unethical treatment of animals in the United States, but if they did, they would be more motivated to fight for change₂. The legislation holds people accountable and provides consequences for those who do not treat animals well₂. Unfortunately, chickens and other birds are not included in many of the current laws to protect animals such as the Animal Welfare Act₂. Recently there have been several lawsuits filed in an attempt to get chickens included in these acts and protected₂. PETA is one of the main groups pushing for this changes₂. 

Donating to organizations like PETA that are already working hard towards a solution is always a good option, but I recognize that not everybody is able or willing to do this. I would encourage you instead to just take a minute or two before you eat a poultry product and consider where it came from. Were these chickens treated well before they were killed or while they were producing their eggs? Were they raised sustainably? You can determine this by checking the packaging to see if the product is Certified Humane. If it is Certified Humane then there will be a Certified Humane logo somewhere on the packaging. If it has this logo it means that it passed the stringent requirements set up by Humane Farm Animal Care for humane treatment of animals.  If the answer is no, consider looking for other products for which the answer to those questions is yes. Keep this information in mind when you consume those products and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Simply spreading awareness about an issue like this can make all the difference. 

1) “Chickens Used for Food.” PETA, 29 July 2019, https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/chickens/.
2) “About Peta.” PETA, https://www.peta.org/about-peta/.
3)“Poultry & Eggs.” USDA ERS – Poultry & Eggs, https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/poultry-eggs/.
4)“Food and Food Animals.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 June 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/food.html.
5) Frequently asked questions. Certified Humane. (2021, June 30). Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://certifiedhumane.org/frequently-asked-questions/.

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