Chicken story

Essays > Health

A true story by Chintan about two holy Zen characters, a possible cure for mental illness, a terrifying rooster, and a horror story starring Jack DeCoster.

Warning: This article could cause nausea, hallucinations, profound sadness and possibly an end to Specism!

Chintan in front of shacks

Years ago in a land faraway, let’s call it Vermont, I lived with my son and a few other humans on a five-acre country estate which featured a vegetable garden and three outbuildings. My 12-year-old son and his friends turned the largest structure into a “Beat Barn” where they played rock ‘n roll and practiced Break Dancing. That left two outbuildings, one of which was a tiny shack about the size of an outhouse.

One day at a country fair I suddenly had the intense urge to purchase a pair of exotic-looking bantam chickens. Pure white with fluffy feet and heads, they were absolutely adorable – and about half the size of normal chickens. The seller assured me they were authentic Japanese Silkies which would dutifully provide me with very tasty eggs.

fluffy chickenBeing a Zen sort of household, my lover Rupa and I named them Yoko and Rinzai. (The historical Rinzai was an enlightened master and Yoko was the Japanese wife/guru of John Lennon.) I erected a wire fence around the outhouse, scattered a thick layer of straw and spent my week’s salary on chicken furnishings and feed! Yoko and Rinzai settled in nicely and Yoko began furnishing us with miniature eggs that we had to wrest away from their fierce mom who had other ideas for her creations. When a dozen eggs had been collected, I made an omelet that my son and I ate when our housemates were away. It was delicious, but hardly filling.

I fell instantly in love with the idea of raising chickens and gathering fresh eggs each day. As karma would have it, a friend was downsizing her flock and gave me 14 hens and two roosters. I placed them in the remaining outbuilding which was already equipped with laying boxes. The hens and one of the roosters were regular American types: Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds and Bardrocks.

Black roosterThe other rooster was a huge coal black devil named Meinwei (pronounced Mean Wee) who immediately dominated everything in sight including humans. It gave me no end of joy watching that rooster chase dogs, cats, children and visiting city folk. Then one day he came after me and I did not see the humor in that at all.

In response to his attack, I chased him around the barnyard, both of us squawking; me in rage, he in fear, until we mutually decided that heart attacks were imminent. He never went after me again, but from that day forth we gave each other a very wide berth.

A few days after the hens settled in to their new home, which was lavishly furnished with funds provided by another week’s salary, they began producing more eggs than we could consume. Being relocated city folk the first thing we noticed about these eggs was the rich color of the yolks and the corresponding richness of taste. Educating myself in how to raise a healthy flock, I soon abandoned the cheap methods and invested in organic grain and cracked corn. With the black devil guarding his girls I was able to give them free roaming privileges so their diet also included a wide variety of bugs and earthworms. Rounding out the diet was a potpourri of table scraps. Soon the yolk color and flavor intensified, as did the size of the eggs.

That first winter was long and hard, but even though they were imprisoned in their coop, the hens kept producing. The only near-tragedy occurred when Yoko managed to get one of her legs caught in the chicken wire one night. The resulting frostbite caused the leg to be practically useless. She was able to hop around, but not fast enough to elude Rinzai’s never-ending passion. Poor Yoko found herself constantly put-upon in a most un-Zen like way. To give her some relief we brought her into our home and set her up in the mudroom. (For you city folk, a mudroom is a small entrance room where muddy or snowy boots are removed prior to entering the kitchen.)

YokoYoko adapted quickly to her new domain. The only threat was from our five cats who competed to be the first to taste the new mobile organic spring chicken dinner they thought we were kindly providing. Weeks passed without incident as all family members herded cats away from Yoko’s room while we fed her and cleaned up the chicken droppings, but even though we were a meditative, fairly conscientious group, one day the door was left ajar and in crept one of the felines. I witnessed the horror that cat experienced as this tiny, hobbled chicken flicked out a wing perfectly-aimed at his sensitive nose! Never having experienced a dinner fighting back, the cat stopped in his tracks and sank defeated and perplexed to the floor. Word quickly spread through catdom about this amazing little creature and for the remainder of Yoko’s short life she ruled not only her mudroom but the kitchen as well.

She particularly enjoyed sampling food out of the cat dishes and if anyone had a problem with that activity and wanted to engage in a tête-à-tête, a well-placed snap of a wing sent the intruder scurrying for cover. Yoko was the center of attention in all of our lives for the rest of the winter. She died peacefully in her sleep on Easter Sunday morning and was given a proper burial followed by a tofu stir-fry banquet in her honor.

This is the end of section one. The following section is not for the faint of heart, children and those who find reality untenable, so feel free to skip to the end section entitled “Back to the Real Farm” to find out what happens to Rinzai, Meinwei and the girls.

From Heaven to Hell

Leaving this idyllic Vermont scene we travel now to Iowa. Although similar horrors exist right here in New England, Jack DeCoster’s Iowa egg “farm” has made headlines. Those headlines were so shocking that even Americans who are apparently programmed to forget everything after a week will probably remember the salmonella scare and the recall of a half a billion eggs. Now that sounds like a lot of eggs, but when you realize that just one DeCoster “farm” produces two million eggs each day, it’s really not going to be a huge loss for Jack!

Before I launch into Jack’s “farms”, I should say something about my initial claim for a cure for mental illness. I’ll also include physical illness, because even though my expertise is in mental health, I believe the same cures apply to the physical.

Having spent the past dozen years working one-on-one with over a hundred people labeled as Schizophrenic, Paranoid Schizophrenic, or as having Bi-polar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder, I can attest that severe trauma was a mitigating factor in these poor souls’ descent into madness. Trauma was certainly much more of a factor than eating the wrong eggs, but bear with me as I attempt to connect a few dots.

It is my sincere belief that disease, whether mental or physical, stems from a disconnection from nature. In humans it is a disconnection from our special nature which is that of a being, moving on a bridge between the animal and the divine. We are a truly schizophrenic species, capable of producing both Mozart’s music and Hitler’s death camps, a Jesus taking on the suffering of mankind and a Jack DeCoster presiding over an empire in which only suffering and disease are the result.

You are what you eat!

The “mad” people I’ve taken care of reside in residential care facilities. Every two or three days the Sysco “food” truck backs in and unloads the cheapest “food” available. Mostly white and brown in color, the “food” is loaded with chemical additives. Whatever life-force has survived the processing, storage and shipping is soon destroyed by amateur cooks wielding aluminum skillets and microwave ovens.

My friends are cut off from nature in just about every way possible; denatured foods, fluorescent lights, TV, and of course a barrage of synthetic psychotropic drugs to mask their psychosis and keep them tame.

No healing is possible!

This sort of lifestyle which I believe sets up an environment perfectly conducive to severe mental and/or physical illness is provided by people like Jack DeCoster with the complicity of the FDA and our elected representatives. The ones at the top know that their huge profits come at the expense of the health of this nation. The “foods” that are being manufactured by the corporations are literally driving people mad. That neat plastic-wrapped tenderloin contains much more than a hunk of dead animal. The list of chemicals including psychotropics used to keep that tortured animal alive, fat and “sane” would take up an extra column in this article. When you also add to the list the chemicals used in the salad greens, bread, potatoes, beer, soda, milk, salad dressing, catsup and mayonnaise that surround the dead animal at the center of your dining experience you have in my opinion a recipe for mental and physical disaster.

Synthetic chemicals
+ highly processed foods
+ limited contact with the natural world
+ trauma
= cancer or madness.

Is it really so far-fetched a concept? Think about it. Research on so-called primitive peoples reveal societies where cancer and madness are all but unknown! Are they just lucky? Or is their state of mental and physical health a result of their intimate connection with nature?

After my two years with Yoko, Rinzai, Meinwee and the girls I have a strong reaction when I see or hear about the horrors associated with egg production, so I will bring this article back to the imprisoned chickens and hopefully so horrify and nauseate my readers that you will all cease supporting the system and spread the word to others, because those two million birds suffering today at Jack’s “farm” had the potential to be as happy and funky as Yoko and the others.

Life Imprisonment

Jack’s birds are hatched and after they fluff out in a day or two, are deposited onto a conveyor belt where they are separated into male and female categories. The males are dumped into large garbage bags where they suffocate and die. When the bags are full the contents are ground up and used as fertilizer. As in other species, the guys have all the luck.

The girls, all yellow, fluffy, peeping adorably and certainly hoping to become a loved pet at Easter are instead sent to the Beak Burning Department where a group of humans(?) burn their beaks off with a white-hot thing-a-majiggy. This is done so that later, in their two-year hellish existence, they cannot peck each other to death as they are driven mad in confinement. Beakless they now spend the best three or four months of their miserable lives being fattened up with a chemical-laced inexpensive feed.

When they reach egg-laying age the real hell begins, as they are crammed into cages so tightly that they do not have even enough room to stretch a wing. Imagine Yoko in that situation! For close to two years they lay approximately one egg every 26 hours. They never see the sun, never scratch in the earth, never breathe fresh air. All they see and hear are the other two million hens crammed into this concentrated environment. They also see the low-paid workers collecting the eggs, sweeping out the manure and grabbing the old and/or sickly hens and mercifully wringing their necks to put an end to their suffering.

So, what’s in that egg? What sort of nightmare are you ingesting? What sort of nightmare are you supporting with your egg-buying money? And what is happening to your mind, body and soul as you move further and further away from nature and closer and closer to being “nourished” by cold-hearted, faceless, money-driven corporations?

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Only you can stop it. The FDA is just a bunch of guys who play in the same wealthy sandbox as Jack DeCoster. They care as much about you or those chickens as Jack does. My advice is to give your mind, body and soul a break and pay the additional dollar or two for some cage-free, organic eggs, and while you are at it, take a look at where your bacon comes from. If you think the chickens are in hell, check out the life of a factory farm pig!

Back to the real farm

After Yoko’s death and as spring opened, the snow melted away and the flock came out to enjoy their second season with us. Meinwei had mellowed a bit and no longer terrorized humans and felines, but kept a sharp eye out for hawks and other threats to his girls. The girls were fat and happy and producing the tastiest eggs I’ve ever eaten with yolks so orange they almost looked unreal.

The only unhappy camper was Rinzai who now lived alone, separated for his own protection from the larger, more aggressive birds.

new flyffy chickenI began searching the local fairs and farms for a female companion for him and soon located two young silky hens. When I plopped them down inside the chicken wire that surrounded Rinzai’s coop, he rushed out, blinked several times, ran over to me (to say thanks?), and then ran back into his house. I guess he was tidying up the place.

A minute later he emerged, circled his new girlfriends, and herded them inside. We never got around to naming the new additions and neither of them developed a particularly unique personality, but they were a constant source of delight when their nesting instinct emerged. Any round object; tennis ball, apple, rolled up sock, was immediately coveted and sat upon. When the winter’s chill finally left us, I took two freshly-laid eggs from the other flock and the silkies took turns sitting on them. One time I discovered them one on top of the other, the bottom one looking oppressed but determined not to give up her spot.

Shortly after the chicks hatched they were as large as their mothers and it was a truly enjoyable sight watching the mothers trying to maintain order over their large and rebellious offspring. During this period, Rinzai paced and fretted over his temporarily-curtailed sex life.

roostersLife in the main flock continued blissfully on. Even though there were many predators around, Meinwei kept the girls safe. They were all spoiled rotten, especially by me. When I discovered that they particularly liked leftovers of spaghetti with red sauce, I made extra large portions for dinner and enjoyed the sight of 14 hens flapping across the yard when I emerged from the kitchen door.

When I sat down to dole out equal portions, one bird jumped onto my lap as another somehow managed to climb onto my left shoulder. I was laughing so hard and enjoying it so much that I gave up all control and was soon covered in spaghetti and chicken feathers. The birds made quick work of the meal while carefully managing not to peck me to death, then meandered back to the coop where Meinwei stood eyeing me in stony silence.

Conclusion

By the end of the year that chapter of my life reached its conclusion and off I went to the next adventure. An acquaintance with a similar appreciation of birds took them all to her nearby farm, assuring me that they would be treated with almost as much love as I had given them.

Mental illness… diet… nature story… factory farming… all in one short article. So how to wrap it up succinctly? My aim has been to connect these seemingly diverse elements in a fervent plea to the reader to recognize the suffering of humans and the so-called lower species and do something about it. There are two keys I believe in. One is education and I therefore recommend the following books and films:

Books

Diet for a New America by John Robbins
Radical Vegetarianism by Mark Mathew Braunstein
Animal Factory by David Kirby
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Films

King Corn
The Future of Food
Supersize Me
Babe
Killer At Large: Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat

The second key is love, aided by meditation. True love in my opinion is an opening of the heart, not a fixed, narrow focus on things or people to which we claim ownership. Anyone can love their mother or lover or children or the family dog, but real love, the love demonstrated by a Jesus or a Buddha, is an energy that promotes peace, joy and healing. It is benevolent and all-inclusive. It has been said that the idea of vegetarianism arose in the minds of Zen monks as they moved deeper into the inner realms. Their love blossomed as their eyes were opened to the divinity of all God’s creatures.

The “food” produced by Jack DeCoster and other members of the gang have created a climate in the human being conducive to cancer and madness. It would truly be an act of love to shut the door on this corporate death machine and switch to a locally produced organic, vegetarian diet. Everyone wins: local farmers, the animal kingdom, the environment, and you!

The FDA won’t do it.
Congress won’t do it.
Your doctors and priests won’t do it.

It’s up to you!

On behalf of Rinzai, Meinwei, Yoko, the girls and the billions of animals currently being tortured, I thank you!

Chintan

Chintan (David Hill) is a writer, and author of Mastering Madness.

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