‘Time to quit eating eggs unless you’ve toured your local farm and actually see how the chickens live and lay eggs and are they ever abused in any way.’
This was a comment on a post that was shared on There’s an Elephant in the Room recently. The post concerned was a gallery of over 100 photographs and words about hens who were being used for their eggs. Harrowing, tragic and compelling, it left no room for doubt or debate about the monstrous practice that is ALL egg use.
And then I saw the comment and it left me almost speechless before I reminded myself that there’s always someone who refuses to accept that egg use is morally wrong. And because it happens every time, I suspect that there are many on the sidelines who are thinking the same but just don’t say anything. And be assured, as far as egg use is concerned, there are clearly many who either want their own continuing use to be validated, or who really don’t get what the problem is. I’d go as far as to hope that the writer of the comment started out well-intentioned and just made an incredibly poor choice of words. But it’s an example of a point that is crying out to be made.
As advocates for animal rights we can’t afford to be careless with language. Far too much is at stake; too many lives are depending on us.
‘Time to quit eating eggs.’
Great. They should have left it at that. That would have been an ideal comment with which to share the post on someone’s own page. Okay, it’s never going to be a welcome message, but it’s completely honest. And the gallery contained hundreds of tattered, broken, dying, despairing and dead hens who desperately needed someone honest to share the outrage of what had been done to them to fulfil the demands of consumers for their eggs.
Yet it’s depressingly common to see ‘advocates’ seeking to ‘soften’ the message of a post. I suspect it might be an attempt to deflect any hostility that their post may cause, a misguided attempt not to be perceived as ‘one of those vegans’.
It’s essential to remember however, that it’s not YOU personally that the audience is hostile about. It’s your message. Your message must always focus on the victims of nonveganism. Your message is what it is and it’s nothing but the truth. We can’t ‘soften’ the truth without making it fundamentally untrue, and we can’t make our audience any less disgusted at themselves when that truth finally dawns on them. If they take it out on you, well that’s part of the territory.
So as the impulse to ‘soften’ kicked in, things started to go horribly wrong.
Well, that’s sweet, sweet, music to the ears of those who use other animals and want to carry on doing it. As soon as there’s an ‘unless’ in a sentence, it is taken to mean there must be an acceptable exception. Evidently if all the other conditions in the comment are okay then it’s fine to carry on, or at least that’s the licence that this word ‘unless’ is giving here. And everyone – everyone – thinks that their own behaviour is okay. The problem is always perceived to be what ‘other people‘ do.
‘your local farm … actually see how the chickens live‘
Ahh – so ‘local‘ farms are okay apparently – or so those looking for a loophole to get their own personal kind of exploitation off the hook will conclude. ‘Why don’t you go and take a look – if it’s local (i.e not a ‘factory‘ farm) it’s fine,’ is the clear suggestion. After all, we’ve already established with the word ‘unless’, that there’s an acceptable scenario here in which egg use can continue and that’s what our egg-using audience wants to happen.
This is the bit where a hundred comments scroll before my eyes, comments about ‘backyards’, about the ‘lovely woman down the road who treats her hens like her children’, and the ‘free range family farm’ where apparently everyone on the planet buys eggs, and the dozens posting hearts about the the way their ‘rescue’ hens ‘pay for their keep’ by ‘giving’ eggs to humans to eat. It’s absolutely clear that many think that the size of the establishment is the critical element in deciding the ethics of their choices.
I’ve been blogging long enough to see a trend. In almost all other species, readers can empathise with, understand, and decide to reject the violence inherent in all our use of other animals; violence that is epitomised by our brutal exploitation of female reproduction. However as soon as someone mentions eggs, everything changes. Suddenly it becomes all about the type of environment in which they are used and the way they are treated while being used. This part of the original comment firmly reinforces that idea.
Bear in mind too that those who sell eggs are, like all the victim-making industries, skilled manipulators of consumer opinion. They have to be to be. A few quotes about ‘highest welfare standards‘, throw in a couple of ‘backyards’, mention how ‘happy’ the hens are, and all is well. <Sighs of relief all round and omelettes for tea>.
‘and lay eggs … are they ever abused in any way’
All hens used for eggs, lay frequently and painfully as you’d expect from any female whose species has been selectively bred over decades to lay 20 – 30 times the number of eggs that their ancestors did.
Depending on where they’re being used a few may find nesting boxes, others will labour and convulse, miserable and exposed, crowded together without privacy. Wherever it’s happening, they each have that selectively bred body, genetically programmed to self destruct, that will wear out after a short and painful life of over-ovulating. At that point she will either face the terror of the slaughterhouse or fall victim one of a number of the excruciating diseases which are the inevitable consequence of our tampering with their genes. For any hen, her chance of a peaceful death of old age is close to zero.
So ‘are they ever abused’? I can’t even begin to imagine the writer had in mind. The decision to violate the reproduction of any unconsenting female, to tamper with their genes to maximise our interests, to effectively use them to death – wherever we do it – is one of the most offensive things that we can inflict upon a fellow sentient creature; it’s the ultimate act of ‘abuse’. There is no way to use any living individual for what you can take from their life and their unconsenting body, that is NOT abuse. They are used for eggs for human consumption therefore they are abused. End of.
So here we ended up with a comment that started out so well, but in the end was a complete betrayal of every broken little hen whose dull and desolate eyes gazed out of that post and it would have been better left unsaid. In the end the meaning that would be taken from that comment was,
Stop eating eggs – unless they’re from someplace local and you can justify not stopping.
The importance of the words we use simply can’t be stressed too much. Added to which there is always a risk that what we say and what listeners hear are not the same at all. As I’ve said, it’s not a popular message and the majority of listeners – if they listen at all – are looking for the get-out clause that excuses their own personal kind of use, and confirms what they want to believe; that it’s other people who cause all the problems.
As animal rights advocates we have such a huge responsibility to be crystal clear with our words and to leave no room for doubt. Because the element of doubt is nothing short of a betrayal of those who are depending on us, and it costs them their lives.
Be vegan. Oh and STOP using eggs.