How the Hen House Turns: The Carnivore Dilemma

How the Hen House Turns
The Carnivore Dilemma
By Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Next to the mayo-drenched BLT, I like chicken salad sandwiches best, even though I have come to know and to love chickens for who they are, far better than I ever knew a pig.

All this didn’t strike me until I was eating a chicken salad sandwich one day in 1975, some 30 years after I heard a pig’s death squeal on our World War II Victory Farm. Deep is the irony that lies in the nature of humans as both carnivores and animal lovers.

I had brought my chicken salad sandwich out to the picnic table because I wanted to be with my daughter’s chickens and watch them pecking around under the ponderosas. As I sat down to my chicken salad sandwich, I could only hope they wouldn’t notice what kind I was eating.

How could I munch the fowls’ meat with one side of my mouth and speak endearments to our four hens from the other? No wonder Arky and Dusty refused to lay after five years of loving care. Perhaps they had come to the realization that human beings can be schizoid carnivores. I am the living proof.

As I sat there writing, 25 years after the fact, trying to sort out memory from dreams and true facts from wishes, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of creatures we are, we human beings. For example, I sat with a chicken salad sandwich, munching contentedly at my redwood picnic table, watching out for loose dogs that might hop our fence and do violence to our pet chickens.

Eat Peeper? Lay Penelope’s neck across a block just when I’ve got her nursed back to health from a severe de-feathering by her fellow hens? It was rather pleasant having her in the kitchen for a couple months. She became quite tame. The point is this. We love the animals we eat, most of them. Think of Ferdinand the Bull next time you order a Big Mac.

Then there are dogs and cats. I have heard that dog meat is eaten somewhere in the world, but the idea of making doggie burger out of  Fido or cat chops out of Felix is abhorrent to us westerners. In India cows are sacred, and even the most lax Hindu worshiper will not eat beef, unless he’s been thoroughly westernized. It’s all in the mind, you see.

And not all of it is in the way one is brought up. I suppose that many people raised on commercial farms, where cattle are big business or chickens are daily fare, think nothing of the slaughter that is necessary to round out their income.

What can I say but I’m sorry? But that brings up the question: who do I say I’m sorry to? All the chickens of the world? The essence of Chicken in the universe? Maybe it’s only me that needs the apology—and that’s how it must be. What if I ate some chicken that might have been a Peeky or a Peeper or a Penelope if given half a chance? Maybe that’s the essence of the human tragedy—human beings can ask “what if?” and expect an answer.

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