Recently, an email from Farm Forward (which I believe is tied to PETA somehow) appeared in the Root Simple mailbox, saying, “I thought you and your readers might be interested in a new campaign Farm Forward just launched called BuyingMayo.com. We’re letting consumers know that baby chicks are killed in the process of making America’s #1 condiment: Best Foods & Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.”
Following the link, I found an emotional video pairing sentimental, sun-drenched images of a mom making a sandwich for her toddler with factory farm footage of dead chicks jostling down conveyor belts.
The website says,
Most of us don’t consider the treatment of baby chicks when we purchase mayo. And we shouldn’t have to: we should be able trust companies when it comes to preventing cruelty to animals.
Best Foods and Hellmann’s use millions of eggs each year to create their products. Since only female chickens lay eggs, Best Foods and Hellmann’s don’t have any use for the male birds. Their solution is to treat these chicks like garbage: they’re either ground up alive, gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags.1
Nobody wants to see animals suffer, but some of the worst abuses occur where we least expect them. If we care about preventing cruelty to animals, we have to shine a spotlight on abuses that otherwise would be hidden. We’re calling on Best Foods and Hellmann’s to stop treating animals like they’re trash.
I agree with the broad facts. Male chicks are destroyed just out of the shell because they come from breeds developed specifically for heavy egg production, not for quality meat. Only the girls have value to us, but nature insists on giving us 50% boys. The practice of culling newly hatched males is appalling. It is wasteful, in the darkest meaning of the word. It is a blatant disregard of life. It denies that we have any relationship to, or responsibility for, these animals.
Nonetheless, my first impulse was to ignore this email, because I don’t understand why they are targeting mayonnaise makers specifically. I mean, I do, on one level, because OMG! Dead baby chicks in my mayo??!!!! After all, what’s more sacred or beloved than mayo? These campaigns are fueled by emotion.
But the focus on mayonnaise alone seems to muddy the waters overall. The fault is not with the mayonnaise producers. The fault is with us. All of us who eat eggs.
Yet it seems that the activists are hesitant to point the finger at us, potential donors that we are, and say, “If you really care about this, change your behavior.” Instead, they give us a scapegoat to point our finger at and cry, “Chick murderer!”
They want us to convince Hellmann’s and Best Foods to solve the problem for us (or rather, one small slice of the problem), perhaps by reformulating their mayonnaise to be eggless (likely by adding weird stabilizers or–joy–monocropped GMO soy) or figuring our how to humanely source eggs on a vast industrial scale…er…somehow? My response to this is one big big eye roll.
It’s time to point fingers toward ourselves. But instead of letting the guilt gnaw at us, or living in denial, we can take positive action–such as:
1) Stop buying eggs and products which contain eggs when they come from factory sources. And yes, 99% of eggs you find will be from sketchy factory farms.
2) While you’re at it, do the same for all meat and dairy raised by sketchy producers, which again, is 99% of what you’ll find. Dumpsters full of newly hatched chicks are just the tip of the iceberg in the animal cruelty department.
3) Seek out small farmers who treat their animals with respect. You might find such people at your local farmers’ market, or you may hear of someone by word of mouth. You might have to drive out to the country, or buy shares in an animal, or join a co-op. It will not be as convenient as running to the market.
And yes, it will be more expensive. But it is possible to shift your dietary patterns to a more vegetable-based diet. If you eat mostly vegetables, using meat and eggs as a flavoring or garnish instead of the centerpiece of the meal, and save the big expensive cuts of meat for feast days, your meals will be affordable, humane, and healthy. You’ll be eating as commonsensical cultures have eaten for eons. And you’ll have the satisfaction of supporting ethical farmers and taking your dollars away from the factory system which is polluting our land and poisoning our collective soul.
Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
4) You may be able to keep your own laying hens, as we do. This is why we keep chickens–to enjoy eggs without guilt. You may even be able to raise meat chickens, depending on where you live.
Just be aware when buying chicks from a hatchery or feed store that if you buy sexed females it is possible that their brothers were all killed at hatching. It depends on the breed you’re buying. If it is a dual purpose breed, rather than an egg production breed, then the boys might have been sold to people who want to raise chicks for meat. I’m guessing on this. At any rate, it is better to buy your pullets from small farms, breeders and individuals who raise chickens naturally.
You could also buy a mixed batch of chicks, called a “straight run” from a heritage or dual purpose breed and raise them all, keep the girls for laying, and either cull the boys yourself when they get to be of eating size, or discretely hand them off to someone who will do so.
5) You could give up on animal products all together–go vegan. I would not blame you, because navigating this crazy food system is like picking your way through a minefield. The majority of our meals are vegan, just because it’s simpler that way. Or you may feel that ethically, killing for food is wrong, and I respect that.
Yet personally, I will not follow this path because, first, I believe that we eat and are eaten, that death is part of life. On a social/political level, I believe small organic farms will be our salvation–in so many ways–and I believe that small organic farms benefit from the presence of farm animals, so I want to support farmers who work in right relationship with animals.
6) Finally, make your own dang mayonnaise.
Thank goodness for the Internet and social networks, which make the task of eating ethically so much easier than it was even just a few years ago.
Ask around for good sources for eggs, meat and milk, and chat up the vendors at your farmers’ market. But in the meantime, Eat Wild is good place to start.
Also, we’ve posted this egg producers chart from The Cornucopia Institute before–it grades egg producers on how well they keep their hens. I don’t believe the practice of killing the male chicks is a factor in their grading, but at least you can support farmers who let their hens hunt and peck out in the sun–or find out how your regular brand scores! Organic Egg Scorecard.