Compassionate Living Blog

Ethical Eggs?

by Hope Bohanec, Executive Director, Compassionate Living

I love having conversations about chickens. Luckily, I get to chat about chickens quite often though my work with as an animal advocate, but my joy can turn quickly to frustration as I often get asked which eggs are ethical to eat. People are always cooking up potential scenarios, “What if it’s from my local, natural foods store? They research and only buy the best of the best” or, “If the eggs are from the farmer’s market, then it’s ok, right?” or, “If it’s a neighbors chicken, or my own chicken, and I know that she is having a good life and won’t be killed, can I eat the eggs?”

The answer to all of these possible situations is “No.” Here’s why:

As long as eggs are considered food, hens will be considered a food production unit. Even if there is this implausible, rare, ideal circumstance where the hen is actually in totally humane conditions (and if you are buying an egg, it is almost assuredly that this is not the case), there is no way we could feed over seven billion people this way. It simply can’t be done profitably.

We must stop looking at chicken’s eggs, and her flesh for that matter, as food. We cannot consider animals as commodities any more. No matter how ethical one operation wants to be – mistreatment, abuse, misery, and corruption will exist in another. We must end the use of animals as food.

Buying Eggs from the Natural Foods Store or Farmer’s Market

If you are buying eggs from a health food store or even a farmer’s market, no matter the size of the farm or the label on the carton, there are hidden cruelties that are economically necessary to making income on eggs.

Egg farms can’t profitably hatch their own chicks. They purchase chicks from huge, heartless hatcheries where the baby birds are hatched not in a warm nest with a mother hen’s love and affection, but rather they are thrust into a frightening world of conveyer belts and metal machinery, roughly tossing them about like inanimate objects. The males don’t grow fast enough to be profitable for meat, so they are killed just hours after hatching by the millions. Thrown away alive in dumpsters outside the hatcheries to slowly die of exposer and dehydration or ground up alive in maceration machines for fertilizer or other products.

Just because there is a label on the eggs that says “humane” or “cage-free” or “free-range” almost certainly does not mean that these hens lived a happy life. Many of these farms are still over-crowding debeaked hens in windowless warehouses where they suffer in filth.

A small, cage-free or free-range farm will not be able to feed all the chickens whose egg production has waned. They can’t profitably “retire” hundreds of hens, so birds that are only a couple years old will be killed by brutal methods such as slow and painful gassing, being buried alive and throat slashing when they could (and want to) live many more years of life.

Getting eggs from a neighbor or small farm “down the street”

There may be scenarios where someone is able to get eggs from a neighbor or a small farm in their area. And perhaps the hens appear to be living the “good life” on this farm or in a backyard. Why can’t we eat these eggs? First of all, you don’t know the whole story. Even a neighbor could have purchased the chicks from a feed store or from mail order, thereby giving money to the cruel hatchery industry and subjecting new born chicks to the horrors of being shipped through the mail. The only ethical way to obtain a chicken is to rescue her from a sanctuary, humane society, or from a bad situation.

But even if the hens were rescued, have a clean, protected enclosure and will be able to live out their lives in peace, (which is rarely the case), we still should not eat their eggs. Such an improbable situation could only feed very few people in a rural area with access to this backyard or small farm. This operation would not be able to consistently supply the neighborhood, or local restaurants or groceries for that matter. To be profitable, they would have to start purchasing chicks and “getting rid of” the chickens that are not producing efficiently. They would need to start keeping more hens in a smaller space and so it starts; going down the same road that lead us to industrial, large-scale farming.

This romanticized notion that we can go back to pastoral days of small, ethical farming is a delusion. Confining, breeding, and farming animals for their flesh and bodily secretions was never humane. As long as we consider eggs food, the probability for exploitation will always be present. “Humane” farming of chickens to feed the billions of people on the planet is impossible.

Identifying as Vegan

It’s important that we identify as vegans, abstaining from all meat, dairy and eggs. You may eat only eggs that you think are ethical, but you are then identifying as an egg eater. Let’s say that you are at a friend’s house and she baked some muffins. She says there are eggs in them, but they are from a “good source.” Because you eat eggs, you believe her, and don’t think much about it and eat a muffin. But that “good source” could be a cage-free farm where the hens are debeaked, never feel the sun on their feathers or the earth beneath them and live a short, miserable life.

The better scenario is to say, “Thanks, but I’m vegan” and not eat the muffin. This demonstrates that it is highly suspect that the eggs were from happy hens and we are choosing not to exploit animals for their bodies anymore. You can then bake some delicious vegan muffins for your friend to try next time!

As long as a hen’s eggs, or her flesh, are considered food, there is the potential for abuse. Assuming that we can feed the billions people on the planet with “backyard” eggs is a fantasy. As I say in my book The Ultimate Betrayal, “It is not our methods of animal agriculture that need to change, it is our unwillingness to give up animal products and animal farming.” We must stop this cycle of use and abuse, live a truly cruelty-free, vegan lifestyle, and stop eating eggs.

(this article is a reprint from 2015, but still relevant and worthy of a Spring re-post)

Year of the Chicken

January 28th marked the Chinese New Year. Each year, the Chinese zodiac has a corresponding animal that represents a 12-year cycle. A person’s birth year matches to one of twelve animals on the zodiac rooster-2017calendar and 2017 is the Year of the Rooster (or, depending on the gender, the Year of the Chicken). This so happens to be the corresponding animal to my birth year, 1969. Many East Asian countries celebrate each animal on the calendar for various virtues and personality traits corresponding to the person. Asian restaurants often have the Chinese zodiac wheel of animals and the corresponding birth years on paper placemats for a fun connection to the twelve animals.

I have always loved that the rooster was my Chinese zodiac animal. While many of the farmed animals are represented (ox, pig, goat, rabbit), I have a particularly close affinity for chickens, not only because I work for the world’s only organization focused on protecting chickens, United Poultry Concerns, but because I have information about these beautiful creatures that most people do not have. I know how intelligent, emotional, and social these birds are and I also know that they are, without a doubt, the most abused animals on the planet and in the greatest numbers.

For every one pig killed an eaten, 60 chickens are killed. For every one cow that is killed and eaten, 190 chickens are killed. Each year, 35 million cows are killed in the U.S., 35 million chickens are killed each day. And they are in the worst condition and suffer the most in brutal battery cages, at the heartless hatcheries, and at the slaughterhouse. These birds are the largest number of abused warm-blooded animals in the world. Along with the billions of chickens who are slaughtered for their flesh and eggs each year, millions more suffer in laboratories, get dumped in animal shelters, and die miserably in poultry houses without anyone knowing that they ever lived.

RoosterWhat we’ve learned about the avian brain and behavior in just the last 15 years contradicts hundreds of years of misinformed views about chickens and other birds. Much of what was previously thought to be the exclusive domain of human / primate communication, brain and cognitive function, and social behavior, is now being uncovered in chickens and other birds. Chickens are far more intelligent and cognitively sophisticated than previously believed. They express emotion like grief, fear, enthusiasm, anxiety, frustration, boredom and friendship. They communicate distinct vocalizations and behaviors that convey a wide range of information pertaining to territory, mating, nesting, distress, danger or fear, contentment, and food discovery.

Sciences is also learning that chickens can be deceptive and cunning, that they possesses communication skills on par with those of some primates and dolphins, and that they uses sophisticated signals to convey their intentions. When making decisions, the chicken takes into account its own prior experience and knowledge surrounding the situation.

As we are discovering the complexity of chickens, it is fitting that this is the Year of the Rooster. These birds have an ability beyond humans to see the infrared light of the morning an hour or so before humans do, so the rooster alerts us to the coming dawn with a robust crow. Just as the rooster calls us awake in the morning, I hope that the Year of the Rooster will \wake us up to the beauty, grace, and amazing complexity of the chicken and bring the dawn of a new era of compassion for these beautiful birds. year of the rooster circleEach day brings a new opportunity to move us closer to the day when no chicken suffers in human hands. Won’t you help to bring that day closer and get active for chickens. The Year of the Rooster is at hand.

A Holiday Happy Ending: Mama Hen and Seven Chicks Rescued from a Gas Station

The other morning I was pumping gas into my Prius when I saw a chick-rescue-1beautiful chicken hanging around the door of the gas station convenience store.  She had brown and black feathers with white specks like snow had just lightly fallen on her back. As I looked closer, I saw that this hen had several tiny chicks in the bushes behind her right outside the door of the gas station store. I looked around and thought that this was an unusual (and unsafe) place for her to hatch her clutch as chick-resuce-2there was nothing around that three foot square patch of bushes but concrete, cars, and a busy road.

I asked the workers in the store and they said that there were eight chicks when they first hatched, but now there were only seven. As the cold drizzle started to fall, darkening the color of the concrete, the hen puffed out her wings a bitchick-rescue-4 and the babies huddled under her for protection.

I knew I couldn’t leave them there. I started making calls.

Compassionate Living board members Melanie and Russ Walker dropped everything and were at the gas station within a half hour with an animal crate and towels. I had been sitting near the mama hen working on getting her used to me. We bought sunflower seeds from the store and feed her a few. She was  coming right up to me as I was talking to her. I got my hands near her as she was pecking at a seed and quickly gripped chick-rescue6her and gently put her into the crate. Next it was all hands on deck snatching scattering, peeping chicks! We quickly gathered all seven and put them in with mom.

A new farmed animal sanctuary called Goatlandia agreed to take the feathered family. Deb Blum, the founder of Goatlandia, has been caring for not only goats, but rescued pigs and a flock of a couple dozen chickens on her land in North Santa Rosa, California for many years. I was so grateful that she agreed to take them, and right away too. After we got the crate in my car, I headed directly there.

As a vegan activist, I think about farmed animals every day. I think about the suffering they endure, their horrible living conditions, the tortuous procedures they must undergo, the loneliness and misery they must feel, and what I can do to help them. But I rarely actually encounter or engage with animals, though I have been trained to handle them in rescue. It was a treat to have this family in my car and I was so moved by the soft, cautious vocalizations of the mama hen on the drive to the sanctuary. She seemed to be saying, “Yes, this is a somewhat distressing situation, but we will be okay. Its true kids, I’m a little concerned, but mom is here and we will be okay.”

When I arrived at the sanctuary, Deb was preparing a small coop that waschick-rescue-coop2 in a separate area, but near the chicken runs. She fluffed fresh straw on the ground and I helped her clean water and food dispensers and fill them. She prepared a large dog crate and lined the bottom with towels and then took a bulky towel, rolled it up, and formed a circle with it in the back of the crate. Deb knew just what she needed because as chick-rescue-deb2we coaxed the family out of the travel crate and into the larger dog crate, mama knew exactly what to do with the nest of towel. She immediately gathered her brood under her and settled down on the “nest”, seeming right at home.chick-resuce-coop

The next day, a storm rolled in to our area with a steady, cold rain and I had a smile on my face all day thinking about that little chick-rescuse-after1feathered family and how they were now safe, warm, and dry. Eight lives are now out of harm’s way, it was a good day. chick-rescue-chicks-in-pan

A huge thank you to Melanie and Russ Walker for quickly coming to the rescue and to Goatlandia for taking them in.

Climbing out of the Trump Slump

Trying to adjust to the dystopian reality of having a climate denier (amid an embarrassment of other dreadful things) as president of the United States has made for a challenging few weeks. I’m finally emerging from the fog of disbelief and despair, licking the wounds of anguish, and clearing my head of despondency. I have to now, more than ever, draw on my core strength of grassroots activism. Not that I ever put a great deal of stock in government making large strides in creating a sustainable future, but at least, for a few years, it felt like there was some leadership assistance pushing the burdensome boulder of climate mitigation and animal liberation up the mountain of complacency, but that arduous rock just came crashing down on our heads.

trump-fucking-the-earthTrump has pledged to revive the carbon emitting U.S. coal industry, create oil pipelines, roll back regulations protecting our air and water, and kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan that includes historic reductions from carbon pollution and expansion of the clean energy economy. Before the election, a study by Lux Research estimated that Trump’s energy policies would create 3.4 billion tons of additional carbon emissions in eight years, if he gets two terms.

It is now up to us to stand up, shake it off, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. We can no longer rely on our government to hear the thunderous warnings of the climate scientists; we have to save this planet ourselves, one person at a time, one plate at a time. We need a massive scale, global shift to a vegan diet.

We are at a critical time with the planet warming exponentially. Many scientists warn that to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to keep the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gasses at 350 parts per million (ppm). This September, the planet registered at 400 ppm, surpassing that crucial threshold. We need immediate action to mitigate the damage that is coming from disastrous droughts, shattering storms, rising sea levels, climate refugees, and devastating famine.

The current trajectory for climate change mitigation is a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and alternative transportation options. This takes time, money, resources, infrastructure change, and most critical to our discussion here, government involvement. We no longer have the luxury of sitting back and hoping that whatever administration is in power will help this planet or her animals. We must step up and take control of the situation ourselves.

earth-wtih-handsOk, so here is the hopeful part amidst the doom and gloom. A global shift to a plant-based diet could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change, end the suffering of millions of farmed animals, and would take little or no time, money, resources, infrastructure change OR government involvement to make it happen. In fact, it could practically happen overnight. It would just take the will of the people to alter their food purchases to plants. It’s that simple. It can be done.

But it starts with you and me. Outreach is key and that is why I have dedicated my life to educating our community about the power of our plate and why it is so vital to choose only animal-free foods. But I can’t do it alone, Compassionate Living needs you! If you are in the Bay Area, won’t you make a commitment in 2017 to helping us promote a vegan diet on the grassroots level by volunteering for our Outreach Team? If time is tight and activism is not for you, perhaps you would become a monthly donor and help us sustain our outreach throughout the year.

In whatever way you can help, let’s climb out of the Trump Slump and get to work! The animals and the planet are counting on us.


A Gruesome Halloween Nightmare at the Grocery Store

Sometimes I hate going to the grocery store. There are numerous reasons for my aversion. One is that I am tempted by foods down every aisle that I must remind myself I don’t eat. Not meat or eggs mind you, I’m talking about vegan junk foods like cookies and cheesecakes. I don’t consider products with animal ingredients food at all. But because there is such an abundance of vegan foods, I’m tempted down the chip aisle by salt & pepper potato chips and vegan nacho flavored corn chips. I’m tempted down the chocolate aisle and the cookie aisle with the abundance of decadent vegan options.

Many people don’t realize what a smorgasbord of junk food vegans have at our disposal. Being vegan does limit the calories available, which is a good thing in our first world cheese covered and marshmallow flavored food explosion, but there is plenty of vegan food that I feel vegans should avoid.

I do indulge on occasion, but not regularly as I feel staying healthy and trim is important for me as an animal advocate. As vegans, “health and beauty” image is always on trial and everyone is waiting to cross examine every sniffle and pound.

But avoiding junk food is a small inconvenience at the grocery store. What’s worse is the retched repulsion that first assaults the nostrils as the smell of rotting sea life and flesh hang in the air. Then, as much as I may try to avoid it, a corpse catches my eye. It may be a headless, featherless bird with skinny, stripped-bare wings, or a dead fish staring out from a glass counter, or a strip of grizzly jerky freeze dried into a plastic wrapper. I divert my eyes, but it’s too late. Once again, I have a shocking image in my mind that to me is like a horror movie; not only the repugnance of blood and guts, but the fear, anguish, torture, and suffering of another sentient being violently robbed of life.

But to the humans mingling around with shopping carts, this is dinner. As disturbing as the images are for me, for others, it’s mundane. This is sometimes hard to swallow, but I know that the day will come when people are aware and awake enough to see this sickening scene for what it is, a gruesome nightmare.

Dairy and eggs don’t evoke the same initial visual repugnance as meat, but once you know how the cows and chickens suffered for these products, you realize it’s just cartons and gallons of liquid meat. The suffering is the same. So even though they are not as visually disturbing, what they represent: painful bodily manipulations, tragic separation of families, a gruesome slaughter, is just as disturbing.

Animal Slaughter is a Horror Show

I find it fascinating that horror movies often depict meat cleavers, meat lockers, meat hooks, slaughterhouses, and other references to animal slaughter and animal flesh. On a primal level, we see the unsettling similarity of a sick serial killer hunting human animals and the slaughter of non-human animals for food. It’s unnerving. But farmed animals aren’t just watching a movie, they are living the nightmare.

I recently experienced virtual reality goggles where the image of pigs being slaughtered before my eyes was in vivid 3D. It was worse than any horror movie I have ever seen. The pigs had frantic fear in their eyes, they helplessly tried to escape and convulsed, thrashed, and screamed as the blood gushed out of them. This is not normal; this is not mundane. Throat slashing is a horror that no animal should ever endure.

I long for the day when the only meat at the store is made from beans and the only milk made from nuts. No blood and guts, just wholesome, healthy, not scary food. Where the only nightmares are tales told to children at Halloween and no one has to actually live, suffer, and die through it. Be sure to choose only vegan candy this Halloween and only cruelty-free vegan foods all year.

Happy Halloween!


Reason for Hope: Positive Progress for Farmed Animals

Being a long-time vegan, I have a unique perspective. I have been living a vegan lifestyle for 27 years and I have seen exciting changes in people’s attitudes and perceptions. Though meat-eating still stubbornly persists – a discouraging reality for new and long-term vegans alike – the progress we’ve made in the past three decades is truly amazing, and gives me hope.

In the past, the usual reaction to someone discovering that I’m vegan used to be a range of skepticism, criticism, and condemnation, if they even knew what the word “vegan” meant. When people would find out that I was vegan, it wasn’t uncommon to become the target of a rude or disrespectful joke. It always seems unfair to me to be ridiculed for making an ethical, healthy lifestyle choice, but a negative reaction was almost inevitable.
Continue reading “Reason for Hope: Positive Progress for Farmed Animals”


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