Bjørnskinn is a bland town who’s only address are the two small signs that mark the ends of it. Those signs are placed so close to each other that they could almost be touched by the hundred something inhabitants, if they would form a human chain. The barn stood somewhat inconspicuously in that sleepy town. Two red freight containers, open to the top, were placed in front of the featureless stable. I’ve been told that fifteen months had passed since the inmates had moved here. “It’s always like that. Seven thousand five hundred, every fifteen months! Health Regulations!” About three hundred of them should and would leave with us. I tried not to think about it. Expectations are usually served with disappointment and today it was almost guaranteed. A small metal box of about 1.5 cubic metre lay beside the barn, just next to a side door. A couple of workers and volunteers appeared and disappeared cyclically from that side door. It looked like a family gathering, as kids and their parents helped and worked together on this cold weekend day. They were carrying out the trash. Two or three “bags” per hand, in and out of that inconspicuous side door. It required some effort to score the hole of the metal box, but they sucseeded every single time. And everytime they went back through the same side door. After a while the cycle came to an end, the metal box must have been full, I supposed. A young boy sipped at his coffee as most of the others disappeared in the sleepy town. Time for lunsj, as the Norwegians say. I would have choosen to leave too, but now it was our turn. An elder man with proper working gear and the corresponding belly turned the valve on the gas cylinder, which was hooked up to the metal box. Meanwhile he was joking around with the young boy who still held on firmly to his coffee cup to keep his hands warm. The temperatures must have reached minus ten degree, which was kind of warm, considering the latitude above the Arctic Circle in mid-winter. About a minute or two passed by until the proper-gear-man closed the valve and then climbed into his tractor. On the first go he hooked up the metal box with the tractor arm. He could easily navigate with it, the space allowed it to, while approaching our small trailer. Nevertheless there was a whiff of laziness in the air. He didn’t bother about the awkward angle in which his tractor now stood to the trailer. And it was obvious for everyone that he would miss, at least partially. He didn’t seem to care about it and then emptied the box. Unsurprisingly he missed the free shot..
A huge pile of dead chickens layed now scattered over the trailer and the street. Too many to even guess a number, at least for non-citizen of dead-chicken-town. A white pile of poor, considerable unhealthy, dead chickens! As I came closer, the scale of the mess just skyrocketed. I felt sick, bad and caught off guard. “Why do they still move? Bloody hell, they are still alive!” The whole heap started to move now, some of them tried to get up, dizzy, uncoordinated, poisoned. One hen managed to sit up, leaning to my right boot, with a look of half-conscious fear and doom. I picked it up, holding it with two hands like a baby cat, staring at it for a moment. I placed it on the trailer and it just sat there, still dizzy, oblivious, resting on the bodies of hundred mostly dead sisters. I picked up some more of them and put them onto the freight container next to the trailer, as if it was the decent thing to do. My mind had left the bland town. When I had been told that we could pick up chickens from a laying battery as food for the dogs, I hadn’t been thinking much about it or at least had tried not to. I had mistakenly assumed some high level Scandinavian standard, like showing the chicken an awesome movie of green grass in which they could run around and do chicken stuff, before killing them unnoticed. But now I felt like moved back to the dark ages, faced with indifference to any level of well-being of conscious creatures. Uwe, my host and employer, obviously didn’t felt much better about it. He apologized to every single chicken, while snapping their necks and telling them “you‘re already dead!”. Proper-gear-belly-man swung some chicken around by the neck before catapulting them onto the trailer with a gesture of education to the ignorant: “that’s how to do it!”. I had enough, the few hens I had picked up still remaind on the freight container and the trailer; alive, sitting upright like candles, almost underlining the tragedy of the genocide. I went to the co-driver seat and shut the world out by closing the door.
On the half hour drive back to the husky farm I tried to get my head around what just happened. Once in a while I checked the rear mirror to see if any chickens were falling off, escaping the inevitable death by human hand to find an acceptable exitus by freezing to death. They didn’t. After parking the car in the drive way, I could have easily just stayed in the car, but this wouldn’t go away. Some chickens were still alive. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, why aren’t you dead?” Uwe got the axe, we separated heads from bodies, still too many to count. I do not doubt the imagination of the reader and will therefore spare you of the pictures.
What is the worst misery for a conscious creature you can imagine? Living fifteen months with 7’500 sisters in boxes, which are too small for you to move and have neither sunlight nor fresh air. Being kept alive only in exchange for daily eggs. Five hundred days in agony for then being thrown out like thrash, where even the decency for a fast death isn’t granted to you. I guess my image of the worst misery gets close to that! This might sound like the story of “young kid goes to slaughter house”. I assure you that I didn’t lack of experience in the transition from conscious-creature to “food”. But I rather try to not lack of indifference.
There was no shortage for thought in the time it took to gut 255 chickens. (I got to count them eventfully, there were actually 256, as I found one of them two weeks later, frozen in the woodshed!). There is an interesting thing about indifference, about cruelty and neglect to change. The first couple of chickens of which you cut the innards out might get you to gag on, to feel disgusted and strange. After twenty slaughtered hens you get used to it. By fifty it becomes normal and somewhere along that number you might become indifferent to the task, the lives involved and the context of its misery. I heard it again and again: “well at least the dogs will benefit from it”. You might face the same situation in the supermarket: “well the animal already died, so the fairest thing is to eat it”, right?. By now I refuse to accept this argument, because finding supporting arguments for something bad or immoral doesn’t make it any less “bad” or more legitimate! It just makes us feel better about it. A mental safety trigger with the probably worst consequence: we won’t do anything about it!
omnis cellula e cellula; the realization that every cell can only originate from another cell. I like to associate this thought with the awareness that most living things can only eat or sustain on other living things, carbon based life! At least this applies for humans and similar sized animals! Humans still do consume a huge quantity of meat and did so for a long time in its evolutionary history, but we can also choose not to! We are a species of omnivores but with the ability to choose to care and maybe change habits if they are prove needless and obsolete. Obsolete due to the energy inefficiency, carbon emissions, the suffering involved and the lives wasted. A fact is that today we will barley face a scarcity of alternatives!
Would I still eat conscious creatures if I could get all my nutrients from other sources? Would I still demand to eat meat if I could print or synthesized a steak with all its positive sides without the negative ones? Would I still consume eggs, milk and cheese when the only remaining argument is tradition? Would I still eat food if I can stimulate my metabolism with any new source science will come up with? In other words, under what circumstances would and do I change my current eating habits? I challenge anybody, including myself, to find out what prevails: tradition or reason? Feel invited to leave your comment and thanks for reading.