The Reality of Cheap Chicken and the Overlooked Misery of our Animals

by | Jun 12, 2024 | Creation, Current Events

It was a beautiful spring day. The air was crisp, laced with the scent of green grass and yellow flowers. Bird song punctuated the gentle rustle of the breeze; a joyful and serene tableau on a fine afternoon. As I walked around the pond, I spotted a couple of geese with their young ones. The goslings waddled behind their parents, inquisitively pecking at everything. It was a charming sight, and I couldn’t help but smile. Spring is a time of new life, a time of hope and renewal, a time to experience the joy of being alive!

Seeing the geese reminded me of my childhood when we raised backyard chickens. I adored the newly hatched chicks and tried to pet them, much to the consternation of the mother hen. My mom fondly reminisces about me trying to clean their feet after their day of scratching in the dirt. Perhaps, I thought something precious had to be kept clean. 

I did not realize that the male chicks were destined to become my dinner someday. When my dad slaughtered the chickens, I rode my bike away. Their fearful cries before death distressed me, and I wanted nothing to do with it. It is the cycle of life, someone said. You love your mom’s chicken curry, said another. I was too young to question the normalization of the violence. I knew that some of my vegetarian Hindu friends seemed to be doing fine without slitting the throats of chickens. Why was the acceptance of killing animals as the cycle of life applied only to some people and not others? I was too young then to ask that question. And when I grew older, I learned to ignore it.

Seeing the family of geese reminded me of our strange relationship with animals. We care for the cute ones, but we slaughter similar ones by the billions. Those considered pets are adored, pampered, and treated like family. Others are treated like garbage, literally. The male chicks of egg-laying breeds are shredded alive within minutes of hatching. Male chicks will not lay eggs, and so are deemed unworthy to live in our world. An animal with no economic value equals garbage in the factory farming system.

The female chicks will fare no better. They will live longer, no doubt. But theirs is a life of utter misery. Picture a 30,000 sq foot fully enclosed space, packed with 50,000 birds. Indeed,  that is less than a square foot per bird. Take a sheet of printer paper. And imagine a full-grown bird in that space. Now picture 50,000 birds, one bird per sheet of paper, packed in an enclosed space for their entire lives.

And there are broilers, the chickens raised for meat, who suffer an equally cruel but different fate. They thankfully have shorter lives. When we are thankful that an animal has a shorter life, something is terribly wrong. They are bred and raised to grow so fast and so big, that their bones cannot handle their weight leading to an inability to even stand. Because chickens tend to peck others when packed in close quarters, they are debeaked without anesthesia to prevent them from killing each other. Debeaking is particularly painful because the beak is an extremely sensitive part of the bird’s body. Artificial lights are left on for twenty to twenty-two hours a day to force them to eat until they are quite literally stuffed. Liberal doses of antibiotics keep them alive long enough so that they gain sufficient weight to be worth the trouble of slaughtering them.

Some conscious consumers purchase cage-free or free-range chicken in the hopes of avoiding the cruelty of the factory farming system. However, such labels are the window dressing that attempts to hide the cruelty on factory farms. If one puts lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig. Cage-free standards vary widely such that the presence or absence of metal bars makes practically no difference to the chickens when they are stuffed together at more than one bird per square foot. The free-range label means that birds have “some” access to the outdoors. If 50,000 birds can go outside to a thirty square foot patch of dirt, they are considered free-range. That would be akin to saying I am a mountaineer because my friend goes for a walk on his patio once a week.

Death cannot come fast enough for these birds. However, only a twisted logic would use their brutal living conditions as a reason for slaughtering and eating them. After all, we created this hopeless and tortuous condition for them. No one deserves to be treated this way. I will spare you the gory details of slaughterhouse conditions where life itself is destroyed. When each worker is “processing” hundreds of birds an hour, we can be assured that it will not be done in the most “humane” manner.

Many in Western culture maintain the assumption that meat is necessary to obtain the protein necessary for a healthy diet. Thankfully, the human body can get all its nutrition without consuming animal products that entail the cruel treatment of animals. Even famous athletes such as Scott Jurek, an ultramarathon runner, and Novak Djokovic, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, eat only plant-based foods. If elite athletes do not need animal products in their diets, average athletes such as you and me do not need it as well.

Perhaps, you had believed that the $5 rotisserie chicken had lived a happy life frolicking with its friends on a bucolic upstate farm. But that is not the case. Now that you know about the unnecessary cruelty we inflict on animals, what will you do? 

How will knowing the truth about the meat industry move you to act with compassion?

If I had a bird at my mercy, would I slit its throat when I have access to plant-based foods? As a child, I would have pet that bird and let it go free. I preferred eating lentils than killing an innocent bird. As an adult, I wonder what it means to have a creature at my mercy. Do I really have the right to take away an animal’s life solely for the sake of the pleasure of eating its flesh? 

God invites all to choose mercy and compassion. The Lord says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I want to be compassionate because I want to be like Jesus. In my prayerful contemplation of Jesus’ ministry, I cannot imagine that Jesus would condone factory farming. At the beginning of creation, when God declared everything good and gave humans only plants to eat (Genesis 1:29), I believe He meant it as a way to live in harmony with the animals.

I looked at the family of geese at the pond with eyes of wonder and laughter. Perhaps, God was looking at us with eyes of wonder and laughter as well. And I prayed for the billions of birds that never see the light of day, never flapping their wings with joy, never setting foot on God’s green grass. May God care for all His little ones, for all of us are at His mercy.


If interested, consider the following resources to learn more about factory farming:

  • Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, p247-287
  • Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, p129-137
  • Dominion, 2018 (documentary film)

Photo by Otwarte Klatki is licensed under CC by 2.0


Daniel Mascarenhas, SJ   /   All posts by Daniel