Wednesday, May 16, 2007


A project during my NGO days in the 90s took me to the island of Jintotolo just off the southwest tip of the town of Balud in the island of Masbate. It was an idyllic little island with a Spanish-era lighthouse but this entry isnt about that. It's about what I noticed as I sat under the caimito tree drinking Tanduay with the barangay captain and some locals before they set off to fish for squid that night. The barangay captain had several livestock--hogs, chicken--free-ranging on his property and I remember thinking how happy they must be being able to roam freely and not be confined to cramped pens. The hogs were fenced in of course, but their confines werent as cramped as what they would be in a commercial hog farm. The chicken were free as, well, birds.

As the sun was going down, a rooster crowed, and soon all the other chicken appeared out of the bushes and gathered under the caimito tree. I remembered thinking the rooster acting like he was in total control, as if he was inspecting the chicken, probably counting them to see if they were all there. He kept crowing and moving around: "Dammit, where are the others? It's getting dark!" That kind of thing was going on with him, I thought. Then one by one, they flew--flew!--twenty to thirty feet up to roost on the branches of the caimito tree for the night. The rooster was like a dad making sure the family was safe, and I thought, what if these animals had the same sense of family we humans do? What if they felt friendship, and loyalty, and love? What if they truly cared about each other? And what if they knew, based on what they saw happen to their friends and relatives, their ultimate fate: to end up as food?

Sometimes I think, when eating my baon of chicken, that this baon once belonged to a creature that was alive. That they had little chicken hopes and dreams like we did. That they also wanted to have fun and laugh and sing. We dont know that they dont, and we can't be sure that they can't. What if?

I think sometimes that if they knew what their fate was, how come none of the livestock we exploit for food and labor ever rebelled against their condition? Ive never heard of a herd of cows organizing themselves into a revolt. Maybe theyre not that smart. Maybe they dont know what their fate is. Maybe they have no idea what it's like to not be confined to cramped quarters and therefore won't know what freedom means, and what struggling to survive in the wild is like, and maybe these domesticated animals really won't be able to survive without us humans and they really should be thankful because without us to care for them they'd be dead. But we won't be able to know for sure how they feel about their condition. What if they do think about these things: Oh to be wild and free! Oh wretched fate!

Now Im not off into some PETA trip. I like chicken. Pork and beef too. I try not to think about these things while eating, but there must be some ethical way we can treat these creatures we slaughter by the tens of thousands, or treat as egg and milk factories. For example, how ethical would it be to artificially select for nervous system disorders in chicken or cows or pigs? Artificially select individuals and breed them in such a way that they get smaller and smaller brains with each generation until we can succeed in breeding ones with no higher brain activities. They'd be for all intents and purposes, vegetables. Their nervous system just enough to keep then alive and not much else. They have to be fed by a machine and artificially inseminated. They won't be aware of anything or be able to feel anything. Would that be more ethical? To breed brainless animals with no capacity for even the most primitive thought; to breed them for food?

I dont know. I dont want to think about it. Not while Im eating.

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