This is one of the chicken trucks that travels past my neighborhood ten to twenty times a day to the processing plant. It is a flatbed tractor-trailer stacked deep and wide with chickens headed for the slaughterhouse and then to Publix, or Bojangles’ or Buffalo Wild Wings or maybe my gas grill.
From time to time one of these guys escapes and ends up getting hit by a car. I have also captured many of them over the last thirty years and have taken them to a veterinarian friend of mine who euthanizes them. The reason we euthanize them is that these poor guys can’t be domesticated. My veterinarian friend used the word “demented” once to describe these chickens. They have been raised for one purpose and one purpose only, to be eaten and sadly how they are being transported, crowded together in small metal cages, is pretty much how they have spent their life, on top of each other.
I see these trucks several times a week. I look at their chicken faces, creatures whose lot in life includes no love, joy or compassion. I realize they are not pets, they are simply a commodity. Any personality that they may or may not have been born with is in the end willed out of them and certainly never developed or encouraged.
Now, full disclosure, I am meat eater. I love cow, pig, and chicken all creatures with a face, a brain and if promoted a personality. My Grandfather raised beef cattle. I knew, as a child, that the cute Angus calf frolicking in pasture would probably become the pot roast my Grandmother fixed for Sunday dinner in three years or so. When I was around ten years old I watched my Grandfather deliver a calf that was breached. It was a remarkable experience to witness, performed by a man I already idolized. As the adorable creature struggled to find its footing I told my Grandfather we needed to give it a name, he suggested with a sly smile “How about hamburger”. Yes, I learned at an early age what these animals purpose was, a livelihood and to eat.
But I struggle with the chicken truck. My mother was a school teacher and one year incubated and hatched an egg for her class. That chick found its way to our home in the suburbs and became a pet for several years until it died from some unknown ailment. Chicken, as we called her, had free roam of our yard and our neighbors yards. I am not sure what qualifies as smart in the universe of chickens but this one certainly had both common sense and personality. She enjoyed walks to the park, rides in the car and torturing our poor dog. She also appreciated sharing a cold beer with the next door neighbor much to the dismay of my mother. A drunk chicken is truly a sight to behold and one my mother never appreciated.
So when I am grilling BBQ wings, and drinking a cold Left Hand Stout, I don’t think back on my pet chicken, I probably should. But when I see that chicken truck and all those sad chicken faces looking back at me I do. I know their fate as they speed down the highway leaving a trail of feathers but I also know their potential in a different place and time.