My local spay/neuter group (I’m on the board of directors) has been discussing the idea of selling animal-shaped soaps that are locally-made from goat’s milk as a way to raise funds. Needless to say, I’m opposed to this. I briefly expressed my concerns—which I know always raises a few eyebrows—and will wait to see what happens. Suffice it to say that I personally will not be promoting the sale of any goat’s milk soap.
The discussion arose at about the same time that Ellen DeGeneres casually mentioned on her TV show that she uses eggs from a neighbor’s backyard “happy chickens.” Since Ellen is a self-described vegan and a vegan advocate, her comment about eggs drew some reaction from the animal rights community.
I like Ellen a lot. She’s funny, and I think she’s extraordinarily kind—two of my favorite things about a person. I like that she wears sneakers all the time (I think all the shoes in the world should be sneakers) and I admire the fact that she came out as a lesbian when it was perhaps not the greatest thing for her career. (It worked out okay, but it might not have.)
I am also not one to jump all over someone when they fail to meet their own goals regarding veganism or anything else. I appreciate anyone who embraces the reasons for being vegan and is making efforts to bring their choices and actions in line with those beliefs. It’s not always easy to live the way we know we should—not just regarding veganism, but also in relation to other choices—so I’m not big on casting stones.
I do tend to be a little hard on wealthy celebrities, though. When you can afford a full-time cook plus a team of personal shoppers, and can pay whatever you need to for whatever you want, then there is really never any reason to eat an egg.
Still, I understand why Ellen might think it’s okay to eat these eggs and why my spay/neuter group thinks it’s okay to sell family-farmed goat’s milk soap. People see the happy hens fussing around the yard, and the contented goats browsing in a field. It all looks so benign. What they don’t see are the newborn male goats being smacked on the head for immediate disposal or the newly hatched male chicks at the hatchery being piled into dumpsters and left to suffocate, or tossed into grinding machines to be macerated. They don’t know that, in milk and egg production, male animals (except for one or two allowed to live for breeding purposes) have no value. Neither do older female animals, those past the age of reproduction, who—even though the family farmers “love” these animals—are sent off to slaughter.
Some have suggested that Ellen never said she actually eats the eggs—that maybe she buys them to make food for her pets. And also, that the neighbor’s hens might be rescued chickens who happen to still be producing eggs.
Those are both possibilities, but I’m doubtful. I think Ellen would have clarified the situation if she were generally opposed to eating eggs from backyard chickens. In fact, she initiated the backyard chicken conversation on her show without offering any vegan perspective on it. That made me think that she is comfortable with the whole idea of backyard chickens.
A couple of people told me that, since they are vegan for health reasons, they wouldn’t eat the cholesterol-packed eggs themselves, but have no problem with others who keep backyard chickens. But, I think this has things exactly backwards. Adding a couple of eggs to an otherwise vegan diet is not going to make or break anyone’s health. And certainly, washing up with goat’s milk wouldn’t present much in the way of a health hazard. Neither would drinking the milk for that matter. Popular health advocate David Katz, M.D. wrote about dairy consumption last week and summed up the science pretty well. That is, no one needs dairy in order to be healthy, but consuming moderate amounts isn’t likely to do much harm, either. (While some vegans have done their best to establish dairy as a poison, the actual science just refuses to support those efforts.)
So, if we want to promote veganism—which is an ethic, not a diet—we end up always coming back to the issue of exploitation. And it never fails to put things into perspective. When I posted about Ellen’s egg use on TheVeganRD facebook page last week, one friend responded that the biggest problem with this egg consumption is that “it sends the message animals are still commodities, rather than intelligent, sentient, emotional creatures. And when we send the message that an animal is a commodity in a hyper-capitalist market, there will always be cruelty, because use perpetuates demand, and demand continues production […].”
For me, that’s it, exactly. Eating eggs from backyard chickens will always contribute to animal suffering in some way. It might be a direct contribution if the chickens come from a hatchery. Or it might be through the more indirect effect of what happens when we promote the idea of animals as commodities. When we are constantly trying to figure out ways to use animals, the animals will always lose in the end. I have faith in Ellen, though. I think if she knew the true cost to animals, she wouldn’t want to use eggs from any chickens, no matter how happy they are.