Goat’s Milk Soap, Happy Chickens, and Ellen DeGeneres

Goat’s Milk Soap, Happy Chickens, and Ellen DeGeneres

By | 2012-12-03T20:00:55+00:00 December 3rd, 2012|Tags: , , |66 Comments

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.



  1. JL December 4, 2012 at 5:05 am - Reply

    Ginny, pretty much everything I admire about you, your work, and your writing is in this single post. Your ethics, your objective opinion on research, and your hope and optimism shine through. This is the perfect post for me to share with locavores and excusetarians who try to justify their use of animals. Thank you!

    And let us know what the organization decides about the soap!

  2. Abby December 4, 2012 at 6:31 am - Reply

    This is the most balanced and articulate response I have seen to this “issue” yet, and I thank you so much for voicing such and educated and informed perspective. I couldn’t agree more!

  3. Torrie December 4, 2012 at 7:18 am - Reply

    As always, so well said.

  4. Michelle W December 4, 2012 at 8:30 am - Reply

    I frequently eat vegan, but am not a strict or committed one (at this time, anyways. I AM 100% dairy free due to allergy, tho). I personally don’t see anything wrong with eating organic, free range eggs. They are a valuable source of protein (that the body needs, and not everyone can eat soy and gluten-based alternative protein sources, or beans and nuts all the time, either. I eat a lot of quinoa, pumpkin seeds and spinach, but just using that gets boring after a while). So….as long as one isn’t allergic to eggs, I say it’s ok. She’s still being cruelty-free.

    • Ginny Messina December 4, 2012 at 8:43 am - Reply

      Michelle, the point of my article was to show the ways in which it does cause cruelty when people eat these eggs. The hatcheries that provide eggs for organic, free-range farms treat male chicks in a very cruel manner. Did you watch the video I linked to? Do you disagree that this is animal cruelty?

      And you can get enough protein by eating a variety of grains, vegetables and just 2 one-half cup servings of beans per day. Or a serving of beans and one of peanut butter. No one needs eggs.

      • Abby December 4, 2012 at 9:51 am - Reply

        I would add that I’m a vegan who also can’t eat soy and still enjoy a varied diet of more than just quinoa and nuts/beans. To each their own, but it’s a small sacrifice for me to make in order to ensure I don’t support such inhumane practices. It takes a little bit of work, but it’s worth it and I’ve never felt deprived–only rewarded.

      • Michelle W December 4, 2012 at 9:53 am - Reply

        No, I did not view the video, nor carefully read the article. :/ Will do so now, tho! Thanks.

      • Isabella July 12, 2013 at 10:55 pm - Reply

        Well said Ginny. I’d like to add that “free range” is meaningless and organic does NOT mean cruelty-free.

  5. Vibeke December 4, 2012 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Excellent post today.

  6. Jo Tyler December 4, 2012 at 9:19 am - Reply

    Thank you for this thoughtful and educational post. I (optimistically?) agree that if Ellen were to peel back the curtain and take a closer look at the seemingly benign practice of consuming eggs from “backyard” chickens, she would no longer be a supporter. As always, I greatly appreciate your insightful and temperate responses to current issues like this one – thank you Ginny!

  7. Sharyn December 4, 2012 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. The Ellen bashing has been very ugly from my perspective. Although I wouldn’t wear any animal products and mostly don’t eat them, I don’t call myself a vegan for fear of backlash if I got busted eating a piece of cheese. I live a mostly vegan lifestyle however I am not perfect. Nor is Ellen. She is a wonderful animal advocate because she presents her love of animals and eating “mostly vegan” in a very non-militant/appealing way and I feel grateful for her voice.

    • Billy L. December 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm - Reply

      The imperfect vegan police will never admit their own imperfection or be satisfied until they’ve positioned themselves as more vegan than those they accuse – the backlash is tiresome, tedious, dishonest, and does nothing to change hearts and minds of ordinary nonvegans. I gave up the title to divorce myself from the police and other negative aspects that vegan seems to hold in shutting down dialogue. Personally I abstain from all food, but will make an exception for things that cannot practically be vegan (I have a pair of nonslip, toe-protection work shoes that are leather – they are not made with
      petroleum-based plastic uppers in any adequate form).
      I appreciate the focus on exploitation as a yardstick, rather than searching for “ideal” ways to use animals, and also because it keeps the sanctimony to a minimum. The honesty about the nutrition (or toxicity) claims of vegan food is vital, and I’d like to read up on your work more to incorporate these ideas into my own critique and arguments. I do think the definition of exploitation has to greatly expand amongst us animal protectors and include even some nearby groups like farmworkers, and the poor that live in every one of our cities and countries. Restorative justice is missing from no kill communities and vegan advocacy that seeks to shame or prosecute abusers and killers. Feminism seems relegated to fringe radical status. Issues of racial discrimination are invisible to most vegans, even with all the anti-slavery analogies.
      May animal protectors join with all people of good conscience and intention regardless of their progress along the continuum.

  8. Meghan K December 4, 2012 at 10:00 am - Reply

    This is exactly why I don’t eat eggs even from my friends’ backyards.

    I’d love to see an equally good article about wool. As an environmentalist and a vegan, this is an area where I’m torn. I obviously don’t want sheep hurt. I know Australian wool is produced in a way that is very cruel to the sheep. However, when I see brands like Icebreaker and Smartwool guaranteeing that their wool is produced without cruelty, I am intrigued. I don’t want to wear plastic clothes because they’re so bad for the environment, and cotton is not the best fabric to wear in cold wet weather.

    I’d love to hear your perspective on this.

    • David W. December 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      Megan, I totally agree that finding the most ethical and environmentally responsible products can be difficult to find. Patagonia often times uses recycled plastics for their products but unfortunately the plastic has to be made first. Then there is the issue of where and how the oil is extracted and the impact that has on the environment and people. But then you have wool that can be produced, even though it is probably not the majority, without harming the animals. But that still presents a problem for most vegan since it is still using animals for human use. All this does present problems for those that want to be ethical towards animals and the environment, especially in your or my case that do need good cold weather gear. But I guess that is why I call myself a “practical vegan” rather than an outright vegan. I take into consideration animal welfare, environmental impact, and personal medical issues (which I won’t get into) when considering whether or not to wear animal based clothing such as wool. But most importantly I do take into consideration the fact that most of my wool is older than my “practical veganism”.

      • Ginny Messina December 4, 2012 at 5:08 pm - Reply

        I agree that these are really hard choices. It doesn’t do animals any good if we destroy the environment. I think the best we can do is to simply use less and opt for products with the least impact.

        • Mike December 4, 2012 at 6:15 pm - Reply

          Hemp anyone? http://inhabitat.com/hemp-hoodlamb-winter-wear/

          Is there anything hemp cannot make?

          No need to wear wool. What happens to the sheep in the end even in best of circumstances? Do they all retire to a sanctuary? What happens in the beginning? Are they not bred into existence to be mere commodities?

          • Mike December 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm

            Link to hoodlamb’s site http://shop.hoodlamb.com/about.php

          • David W. December 4, 2012 at 10:43 pm

            Yep, looks like beautiful and functional clothing. Unfortunately, like so much that is environmentally friendly so danged expensive, ~300 euros. Also, the only problem I have with that line is that they still use quite a bit of cotton for their jackets which makes them a difficult sell for backpacking in the NW. Hopefully they will become popular and will have a wider line in the future with lower prices of course. But still its wool vs. petroleum products. Both can be a hard sell to me but I need one or the other.

          • Cindie December 5, 2012 at 10:56 am

            Well, yeah. I especially appreciate your comment about animals being bred to be commodities. I’ve been vegan for 5 years after 20 years as a vegetarian. It was the treatment of farm animals that made me become vegan. Interestingly, several longstanding health issues disappeared when I became vegan. For me, it’s always about respecting the lives that animals lead. They have their own inherent dignity and worth. And hemp is an awesome fabric component!

      • Meghan K December 5, 2012 at 11:37 pm - Reply

        Practical veganism is an interesting concept, although I worry that it implies that veganism is inherently impractical.

        I still have a leather belt I’ve had since before I was vegan. But after 11 years, things wear out.

        Hemp is interesting, but I dont know much about its sweat wicking or wet weather performance. And bamboo is so heavily processed to become fabric…

        I agree with Ginny below that using less of everything is often the best choice for the environment, and thereby good for animals.

        Thanks for the awesome responses everyone!

    • Kim January 16, 2013 at 6:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Meghan,
      Please consider that it takes a lot of petrol products to support the sheep raising and wool market. We all must do the best we can with this information, but consider that the farming operations of animals is not an ecologically efficient process and is also harmful to the earth. If we put our brain energy into finding better, non-cruel solutions for textiles then we will find energy efficient, low-to-none petrolium-based products that work for most situations. The waste from animals farms is not highly regulated and often ends up in drinking water. Yes, petrolium based products are not ideal but if you find something that was ethically sewn you may find some balance.

      Thank you,

  9. Anthony December 4, 2012 at 10:02 am - Reply

    If you have chickens as pets or if an animal sanctuary has chickens, eating eggs which chickens don’t fertilize isn’t hurting anyone.
    It has nothing to do with cruel treatment of chickens in industry or in hatcheries.
    I guess it’s good to use any reason to reminds us all to be more conscious and responsible in relation to animals.
    It’s inconsistent to say first Ellen has all the resources and later she maybe doesn’t have enough information. So what you mentioned as doubtful is more possible, that her neighbor has indeed happy chickens. It’s more like Ellen doesn’t live next to egg producer, but some rich people like Ellen Pompeo who wanst to have turtles and chickens and pigs to run around the property. I also think it’s more possible chickens are not for Ellen since she is vegan.
    Where would happy chickens live then in someone’s backyard. So all the stories invoving animals don’t have to include abuse.

    • Mirkat December 7, 2012 at 10:51 am - Reply

      f you have chickens as pets or if an animal sanctuary has chickens, eating eggs which chickens don’t fertilize isn’t hurting anyone.
      It has nothing to do with cruel treatment of chickens in industry or in hatcheries.

      This is something I touched on in a blog entry that I wrote on the backyard-chicken issue:

      A question that I’ve seen come up: If you keep chickens as companion animals, and they lay eggs anyway, what’s wrong with eating the eggs? Here’s the thing. Laying hens are mutants. They were bred to lay ridiculous amounts of eggs–more than any equivalent wild bird ever would. That output is terrible for them physically. They are susceptible to osteoporosis and ovarian cancer, among other problems. To help mitigate against such health problems, Farm Sanctuary feeds the eggs back to the chickens:

      This dramatically increased egg production is very demanding on the birds’ bodies, using up a lot of nutrients, particularly calcium, which is used to build shells. At Farm Sanctuary, shelter staff collect eggs daily, hard boil them, smash them up (shells and all), and feed them back to the hens to help restore lost nutrients, especially the calcium, which is in the shells. Lack of calcium leads to broken bones, osteoporosis and formation of shell-less eggs (which can be fatal) so it is essential for the health of the birds, especially those rescued from factory farms, to consume the eggs. And, as Susie points out, “It sounds odd to a lot of people, but it is actually not far removed from their natural behavior, as wild chickens will eat broken eggs so they don’t attract predators. Chickens will also naturally eat their own eggs if they are calcium deficient.”

  10. Kerstin Kraasch December 4, 2012 at 10:05 am - Reply

    You are a true inspiration! Thank you for this kind and truthful post.

    Another one not so big on the stone-throwing but on the “vegan is ethics not diet” <3

  11. Bertrand Russell December 4, 2012 at 10:39 am - Reply

    I know articles like this make vegans feel good, but does anyone really think attacking people for not living up to our definition of a word really helps the animals?
    So we can come up with some way of saying Ellen supports “exploitation.” But we all – every one of us – cause suffering. Everything we buy, at some point in the line, pays the salary of a meat eater. Acting as though eating an egg is inherently “bad” but following one definition of “vegan” is inherently “good” is both naive and harmful. It makes our definitions the issue, and not the animals. The general public — rightfully — sees that we are more concerned with dogma than really opposing cruelty.
    Ellen has done more the help animals than I ever will, and, I dare say, more than anyone who attacks her for not meeting their standard of “vegan.” Maybe if we spent more time trying to convince the public to oppose cruelty and less policing people’s language, there would be less suffering in the world.

    • Ginny Messina December 4, 2012 at 10:54 am - Reply

      But did you actually read my post? It neither attacks anyone nor “polices” anyone’s language. And I wanted to make the point that consuming these local products does in fact cause cruelty. If you disagree with that, I’d welcome your perspective on some of the specific points in the post.

      • MeShell December 10, 2012 at 8:31 am - Reply

        I find it amazing how many people comment but don’t actually read your post. It was laid out in a very non-judgmental and the opposite of attacking/policing.

        Well said as always.

      • unethical_vegan December 10, 2012 at 10:20 pm - Reply

        “consuming these local products does in fact cause cruelty”

        in some cases the foods that vegans consume are associated with significant animal suffering. for example, a back yard egg from a resuced chicken may be associated with less cruelty than an organic kale salad (endangerment of atlantic filter feeders).

        my problem with the animal rights-centric argument is that its always possible to concoct scenarios where eggs *could* be harvested in a humane manner. there are also strong (albeit not perfect) ecological and health arguments against the use of chicken eggs as a food. imo, we should not dismiss these arguments if our goal is to lessen animal suffering.

        PS: i believe that your comment about dairy is a strawman. can you please provide examples of vegan medical professionals who have done “their best to establish dairy as a poison”.

        • Gary Loewenthal January 10, 2013 at 8:23 am - Reply

          Practically speaking, there is no scenario for ethical eggs. In nature they lay enough eggs to perpetuate the species. They don’t have extra unless we force them to overproduce.

          It’s also possible to concoct a scenario for more ethical kale salads, with no murdering (as in hen hatcheries and breeding facilities for the parent birds) or perpetuating the idea of animals as commodities, and with advanced techniques to lessen the unintentional negative side effects of plant growing and harvesting.

  12. Sara December 4, 2012 at 10:39 am - Reply

    Excellent post. Thank you for this!

  13. Nancy December 4, 2012 at 11:39 am - Reply

    This is not the only time Ellen has disregarded nonhuman animals, as she is a shill for Cover Girl which as we all know still conducts vivisection on nonhuman animals. The fact that she’s still allowing her face and name to be associated with Cover Girl makes no sense-the double standards she displays are astounding.If she truly wants to make a difference to the animals she’d end the contract and deal with the money loss. I do it every day, paying for more expensive items because the animals are far more important than the money.
    Now Pink is following in Ellen’s footsteps and endorsing Cover Girl. Imagine if humans were the victims of vivisection(as they have been at times) there would be no double standard about it. She and Pink would be seen for the hypocrites they are.

  14. Raelene December 4, 2012 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Ginny, I’d be interested in your thoughts about driving cars etc. For example, relying on tyres and using every day items that have become part of the civilised world.

    • Ginny Messina December 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm - Reply

      I think there are so many areas where we just don’t have a choice because alternatives aren’t available. So, we do want we can, choosing not to use animals wherever that option exists–as it does with diet. The animal products in tires are, I think, byproducts of factory farming–so as factory farming goes away, tire companies will need to find other ways to produce tires. I think some already do so. But yes, we live in a world where it is virtually impossible to avoid using animal products at all.

      • Raelene December 5, 2012 at 1:23 am - Reply

        Thanks Ginny, yes, its a difficult one.

  15. Renee December 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    A well-balanced approach, as said! I’m grateful you took the time to read and think about previous comments made on Facebook, including mine. I do think we agree 🙂

  16. Christine Ghiotto December 4, 2012 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    I celebrated by 5th year as a vegan this last month. I don’t think I would eat an egg of a “happy chicken,” but I just am not getting the point of how eating an egg that a free chicken who enjoys its life, leads to “cruetly.” I don’t think one is exploiting the chicken if it is going to lay the egg on its own anyway? Am confused, I guess. What would be the best way to deal with eggs that are laid, but not fertilized? Thank you!

    • Ginny Messina December 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm - Reply

      Christine, the hens don’t just appear out of nowhere! People purchase them so that they can have eggs. When people buy chickens to keep in their backyards, they are supporting an industry that treats animals cruelly–the hatchery. And, many backyard chicken keepers end up killing their chickens once they no longer produce eggs. So, if we buy eggs from people with backyard chickens, we’re essentially supporting a system that exploits animals.

  17. Insufferable Vegan December 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Hi, I have a question about your statement that science refuses to support the proposition that dairy is a poison. I’m assuming you’ve already written about this, so could you perhaps direct me to a link where you refute the writings and lectures of T. Colin Campbell where he brands animal protein, particularly dairy, as a carcinogen? Thanks!

    • Jodie December 4, 2012 at 3:01 pm - Reply

      She did provide a link- click through to Dr. Katz’s article from last week.

    • Ginny Messina December 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      No, I haven’t written about this, but those are animal studies, which are generally considered the weakest of all scientific evidence. Feeding isolated proteins to rats doesn’t really provide any information about what happens when humans consume whole dairy products. Not to mention the fact that as vegans, we never promote findings from animal research for any reason, right?!

      • David W. December 4, 2012 at 10:52 pm - Reply

        Wow, another thing to think about (which I do all the time given the field I’m working toward), animal research. It’s one of those things that I do not like and despise for what the animals experience but at the same time I am thankful for and realize that a good portion of the medical knowledge and technology we use everyday has started or come from animals studies that we cannot or will not perform on humans. Another dichotomy of ethics we all live with.

        • Gary Loewenthal January 10, 2013 at 8:30 am - Reply

          You may want to read Dr. Ray Greek’s books, in which he illustrates the inherent problems with animal models and how they have impeded medical research. And we perform test on humans every day – they’re called clinical trials and they often have much different results than animal data. Just one example: animal models could not even prove that cigarettes – the world’s best-known carcinogen – caused lung cancer, and reliance on this misleading data may have cost millions their lives and/or good health. The medical record is filled with treatments that worked on animals but not humans or vice versa. This is all in addition to the ethical objections to using animals as disposable commodities for research, but for many it makes the dilemma go away.

      • Insufferable Vegan December 9, 2012 at 1:16 am - Reply

        Thank you for your reply. I don’t have any technical expertise in this area, and I didn’t read the China Study, but I thought it was based on an epidemiological study that included bloodwork from thousands of humans.

      • unethical_vegan December 10, 2012 at 10:22 pm - Reply

        i have not owned a car for over a decade so i bristle at your suggestion that we do not have a “choice”. we all have choices to make and

  18. Kathryn December 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    This is an ariticle that needs to be shared with Ellen. I do think her heart is in the right place, but she hasn’t been exposed to , or though enough about, the cruelties involved even in what seems to many to be a benign use of animals (such as ‘adopted, backyard chickens’).

  19. Katie December 5, 2012 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Do you not support the keeping of any pets at all? I’m only curious because any pet will ’cause’ cruelty to animals if you really think about it. I mean, what do cats and dogs eat? Animal protein. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about a vegan dog or cat. And what about veterinary care? Wouldn’t that require a degree of animal testing? If not, the medication or procedure meant to save a pet could very well kill them. I’m not saying test on one animal because they are less important than another, I’m just stating the reality of the situation. I myself am not vegan. I try to keep vegan tendencies when I can, in terms of food and products I purchase, but it isn’t always possible.

    I love animals. I have or have had dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens, and I love them all equally. I had 10 chickens untill recently. Started with four and then people kept bringing us more. All of our chickens in the past have died from old age, years after they stopped laying, the only exception being Hurricane Sandy, which killed them all. I cried for days. I never thought the flood waters would come as high as they did. By the time I realised I needed to bring them in I couldn’t reach them anymore, the current was too strong. I just want you to know that I love my chickens. My chickens were not commodities, they were my family and I would never have gotten rid of them because they stopped producing eggs.

    As for not buying them because it supports hatcheries, I guess that’s the same idea as not purchasing pets at a pet store because it supports breeders. In general I agree with that, but at the same time, if we completely stop breeding domestic animals, wouldn’t they eventually dissappear? I personally believe in adoption because there are too many unwanted pets. But what happens when there are no breeders and no more adoptable pets? Do we just not keep pets anymore? Wouldn’t that be bad in the long run? Having pets throughout my life has been my greatest lesson in empathy. I would not be who I am if I had never had pets. If someone is never exposed to animals, I can’t imagine they’ll develop any strong sense of duty towards them.

    I’m sorry for the long ramble, one thought led to another and next thing I knew there was a wall of text…

    • Ian December 6, 2012 at 10:36 am - Reply

      Hi Katie,

      You raise valid questions and the issue of companion animals for vegans is a grey area. Certainly I could not dispute that a well-cared for and loved companion animal has a great life, but the breeding of animals to be companions is as exploitative as farmed animal raising (many, many companions are poorly/ignorantly cared for or abused). An ethically vegan approach would be to offer a home only to rescued animals and never to buy from breeder of any kind; and to actively support spay/neuter programs.
      Dogs thrive on a vegan diet – this really is not an issue. Cats are different and although a solution would be great none appears forthcoming. As a vegan who loves cats I would never choose to offer sanctuary to one for this reason, but this is a matter that vegans differ on – we each can only do our best. (I do live with two rescued cats, on a non-vegan diet, who I love, but I did not choose to bring them home!)
      Veterinary training should follow the same precepts as human doctor training with regards to treatment of subjects, but yes, you cannot have vets without some animal testing, even if it is only final testing on sick animals of drugs and techniques that have been developed in non-animal testing ways.
      Yes, domestic animal breeds would eventually die out in an all-vegan world, but these breeds (not species) were created by humans solely for us to use. Domestic/farmed animals would – in a vegan world – be cared for (as in farm sanctuaries today) until they die, and not bred. There is no harm in this. A truly vegan world would protect wild spaces so we would still have wild goats, sheep, buffalo, boar, chickens, turkeys, rabbits and so on.

      If you have rescued hens and you choose to eat their eggs but will keep them and care for them until they die, even after they stop laying, then the question should not be “vegan” or “non-vegan” so much as: is harm being done? This is always the primary question, beyond labels. I would suggest though that some of the eggs are broken and fed back to the hens – apparently this helps return to them some of the nutrients leached from their systems by the increased rate of laying eggs that modern breeds have.

      It’s great that you have thought about this enough to come to where you are now, there is no perfect place – we cannot live our lives without some harm coming to others of some species or other; the best that we can do is to try to live with the least harm, which it sounds as though you are trying to do.

      • Ginny Messina December 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm - Reply

        Thanks, Ian, for responding to Katie’s questions. And with such a great response!

    • Gary Loewenthal January 10, 2013 at 8:51 am - Reply

      Veterinary care does not necessarily require invasive animal tests. The newest vet school in the US studies only non-lab animals with actual conditions – which is much more accurate – and companion animals who were euthanized by their guardians who donate the bodies to science.

      I don’t think Ginny’s point was that we can eliminate all negative impacts of our lifestyle. But quitting eggs is pretty simple and – possible rare exceptions notwithstanding – incurs no major lifestyle changes. It can be done in an instant; the main barriers are psychological. In addition to eliminating some actual suffering, quitting eggs may have broader implications in helping us transition away from seeing animals as commodities.

      Basically – instead of focusing on “but we also do this bad thing,” let’s start somewhere, and quitting eggs is a good place.

  20. Cindie December 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Here in Massachusetts, there is an egg producer called The Country Hen. They are cage-free and have built porches for the chickens to sit in the sun. Their egg cartons are recyclable and there is always a little newsletter in each carton. I became vegan because of this company. No matter how good the feed is, how sunny the porches, how cage-free the hens are, at some point they kill all the hens and write about “cleaning house.” it was in their little newsletter 5 years ago. I was shocked into giving up all dairy and eggs after that. That was it. Do Ellen’s neighbors keep the hens into old age? Are they allowed to age and die naturally? And why eat eggs at all? It’s rather disgusting, the practice of eating the fetus of a hen. Thanks for letting me rant again.

  21. Rebecca Moore December 6, 2012 at 6:20 am - Reply

    Such a thoughtful post. I love Ellen and all she has done for veganism and as a vegan myself, I know the learning seems to be eternal – – which is one of the things I love about my dietary, ethical choice! It keeps me on my toes. Whenever it seems I think I know it all, it is humbling to find out I don’t. I WANT my ethical choices to keep my eyes and heart open. We don’t live in a vegan world (I am referencing the tires conversation, or the one about those who rescue true carnivores like cats and have to feed them animal-based foods) but when we all strive day in and day out to make the best, most compassionate choices, we all win. All of us vegans had to learn the painful truths you are pointing out to Ellen, and I just am cheering her on as she absorbs the discussions thoughtfully and hopefully, makes some new choices in the process. May all beings everywhere be peaceful and free. Thanks for your post.

  22. Valerie Sims December 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Although I have read several articles on your website, this is the first post that I have received since subscribing, and I am grateful that I read it. Such a thoughtfully-considered and well-written reflection it is! Unfortunately, some readers misread or misinterpreted things that you said. I do not see any Ellen-bashing. Ellen is a wise and kind person who is as human as the rest of us, but she is one of the most visible of vegans Being so is quite a responsibility, and I am sure she appreciates the polite and informed assistance that she can derive from the post that Ginny wrote

  23. Lea December 8, 2012 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Thanks. I always find it irritating when people say “what if I just had one chicken in my yard?” as if this would overthrow my animal right stance. It’s such a red herring.

  24. Hailey December 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    This is the most eloquent response to the Ellen/backyard chickens dilemma I’ve read from the vegan community. Thanks for such wonderful insight!

  25. Tslil December 18, 2012 at 1:11 am - Reply

    I love this blog, it is so balanced, full of knowledge and low on over-the-head statements i encounter in other pro-vegan resources. This post is no exception. I just want to add though, that back yard chicken- raising for eggs do not require there be a male around… so basically, for the people who raise these chickens, all they have are non fertilized eggs, which the chickens have no need for (except for sometimes when the chicken decides to sit on an egg for while, and this is a behavioral- emotional thing for chickens to be able to sit on their eggs..). to it is worth mentioning that Ellen’s neighbors probably did not suffocate any chicks in the process. another question worth asking is- if there is no way, and from your post I get that you except no way, of raising chickens, what would be with this species? chickens are farm animals, and don’t belong in nature. it our fault to begin with, for domesticating them, but what are we to do now? is there a way of raising chickens without exploiting them, that is realistic and keeps chickens alive on this earth? this is a point that vegans don’t often think about and i must say it does bother me a lot, and i haven’t decided on my opinion yet. so just throwing it out there….

    • Ian December 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      Basically, no there is no way of raising chickens for eggs without killing them at various stages of their lives. Econimics – both cash and ecological/resource – mandate this. Firstly, half of all chicks born will be male. If these were kept alive it would be unsustainable, even on a backyard level, let alone a commercial one. So these will be killed as soon as they are born. The process of shipping egg-laying chicks around the country is also brutal. Then, what do you do when your laying chickens slow down or stop laying – do you buy feed for them for an indefinite amount of time until they die of old age? Providing sanctuary for rescued farmed fowl is great, and I don’t care whether you eat the eggs they lay or not; but there is no way to raise chickens at any level of scale as a deliberate food producing method that will not involve at least the killing of almost all males at birth and the culling of less productive birds as they age.
      As I mentioned in a previous comment, farmed animals are simply “strains” or “races” of wild animals, genetically manipulated by human over millenia to optimise their “productivity” for us. If these lineages of farmed animals reduce in number and eventually end because we no longer farm them, no harm is done and much harm is avoided. Wild chickens exist in many parts of the world (by this I mean truly wild, never-been-domesticated species of fowl) and also, domestic chickens thrive living a wholly independent wild life – if we give them the space (google “feral chicken”) – not that I would advocate this!

  26. vegan December 18, 2012 at 7:36 am - Reply

    The problem with the slow of animal rights movement are hypocritical vegans, we must never ever use animals to gain anything. Many who saves dogs like this org actually care only for dogs, goats are as loving as dogs or cats, that’s horrible.
    I admire you sticking to your compassionate, cruelty free ways.
    I became vegan for them, the animals, but second of all: I admired, got passionate about and loved vegans too.

  27. kerin gordon December 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    Ok….great article. I have been veggie since 1989. I ate eggs..but only a couple dozen a year…then recently i would get 5 dozen at once….and one time turkey eggs…which were gross. Two conditions had to be met….I had to meet the chickens….and they couldnt be killed when no longer producers…then I would buy. No more than two dollars…my neighbors wanted 3…I said forget it….Now I am vegan…and almost all organic. Alot of travelling for food. Will I eat eggs….I still would if they met my requirements but I cant cuz Im not eating any animal products all all cuz I feel so different. More energy. Just better and lost weight. I miss my kettle chips….vegan but unhealthy. Do I think we should OWN dogs….or support them cuz they are too lazy to get a job? I have 6 rescues and getting a chihuaua tomarrow from the shelter. I have 12 cats who have their own house with heat and ac and a 12×17 fence yard with a catwalk around with a view of the desert and a roof. And music 24 hours a day and catnip. Ok the sod died but I tried. I have two useless horses that you cant ride and if you try to walk them they wont move. The eat apples and carrots and sugar cane…..and we have a cow that is sterile cuz she was born as a twin….she was gonna get slaughtered so we paid 600 when they got her for 10. How much does a cow usually cost? Yeah cows are used for meat….we use her to make the horse jealous and to give us excersize . Did you know a cow has horns and charges like a bull? Yup….and then me and the dogs run…..for our life…I can run pretty fast now. You can loose weight on a cow diet…(joke).And healthy too. Unless she gouges me with them horns someday

  28. JanM January 4, 2013 at 8:04 am - Reply

    There are actually two brands of vegan dry dog food and also canned vegan dog food. I bought the vegan dry dog food for my dogs and they seem to like it. I am currently feeding them half vegan and half regular dog food.

  29. Gena January 5, 2013 at 5:11 am - Reply

    Nailed it. As usual.

  30. Jason January 8, 2013 at 4:30 am - Reply

    An interesting article, and I completely agree with your views on eggs and goat milk. I’m not sure I agree that veganism is an ethic, though, i.e. a statement of right and wrong.

    Vegan, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is someone who doesn’t eat or use animal products. That’s it. The actual motivation(s) for becoming vegan is separate to the definition, and is entirely down to the individual who adopts veganism. A vegan is someone who doesn’t consume animal products, but he or she is not necessarily concerned about animals, or necessarily much else! But that wouldn’t make them less vegans than someone with the same diet who was going on weekly rallies.

    I, like many, did it for the animals, but I’ve met people who have different reasons. The thing we all have in common is being vegan though.

    • Ginny Messina January 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      Jason, people choose plant-based diets for different reasons, but I use the term vegan the way it was originally defined and is still used by The Vegan Society–which means a lifestyle that includes no animal products. So for example, vegans don’t wear leather shoes–and I can’t think of any reason why someone would choose not to use leather other than for ethics. I think even the Oxford dictionary agrees with this if they say that a vegan doesn’t “use” any animal products.

  31. Jon Wheeler January 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm - Reply


    I can’t say that I agree with what you wrote in this article. Even if your assumption about the source of those chickens is correct, I fail to see how the cruelty at the hatcheries is any worse than some of the cruelty involved with the VEGAN lifestyle:

    Dairy-based starters used in soy-yoghurt. Tractor / combine run-overs during cereal and grain production. Certain sources of palm oil. Unfairly traded goods and services from the third world.

    The cruelty at the hatcheries isn’t any more integral to egg production than the cruelty involved with those vegan options I mention above. It would be perfectly possible to house and feed all the male chicks, it would just take a lot more money. It’s down to economic forces at the end of the day. The same reason why farmers use combine harvesters instead of paying workers to hand pick the crops.

    I also don’t think the use of truly happy eggs would perpetuate the commodification of animals any more than the use of farm workers perpetuates slavery. Both situations can involve equal exchange just as both situations can be abused. Potentially both situations can promote humility and peaceful co-operation between other people or other species.

    I also find it disappointing that you couldn’t get through this blog post without taking yet another swipe at the health argument. The self destructive nature of it aside, I didn’t find your arguments the least bit convincing.

    ————-“Adding a couple of eggs to an otherwise vegan diet is not going to make or break anyone’s health”—————

    Adding a couple of servings of french fries to an otherwise healthy diet is not going to make or break anyone’s health. That doesn’t negate the health argument against french fries, and it doesn’t negate the health argument against eggs. And where did Ellen say that she was limiting her consumption of eggs to just “a couple”.

    I assume you’re talking about a couple of eggs per week by the way.

    I think Ellen’s health is far more under threat here than the welfare of the chickens. Especially if she starts eating eggs in any quantity, and especially if she is adopting the male chicks too, which she can easily afford to do. Perhaps what is most threatening about this situation is that someone (albeit a rich someone) can potentially enjoy all the moral splendour of veganism without going 100% vegan.

    Your feedback would be appreciated.


    • Ginny Messina January 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm - Reply

      Jon, thanks for your comments. I agree that there are lots of poor choices that vegans can make. That doesn’t make a vegan diet an ineffective way to reduce cruelty; it just means we have to continue making the best choices possible within this lifestyle. There are always negative consequences of food production, so the idea is to minimize them as much as possible. By choosing yogurts that don’t use dairy-based starters, by choosing fats other than palm oil, etc.

      If we lived in a perfect world where every animal–including those used for egg and milk production–had a perfect, kind, happy life and was allowed to live that life to a natural death, would it still be wrong to use animals? That’s a philosophical question that goes well beyond the content of this post. But, I write about ethical and healthful food choices in the world we live in, which is far from perfect. In this world, egg consumption, even from backyard eggs contributes to poor treatment of animals.

      And yes, I was talking about a couple of eggs per week–and within the context of an otherwise healthy plant-based diet. It’s highly doubtful that eating a 100% healthy vegan diet is better for you than a 98% healthy vegan diet. I never said eggs were a healthy or even benign food; I just said that it’s not going to harm someone’s health to eat small amounts of unhealthy foods, as long as their diet is usually healthy.

  32. Sarah January 14, 2013 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    Hi Ginny!

    Just stumbled across your blog. I think the point you are trying to make is that if Ellen is eating eggs.. she is potentially promoting eggs (which are likely to come from a supermarket – therefore involving the cruel farming practise that is involved with egg production). I think that if someone houses chickens at their own house and has plenty of room for them to roam, there is nothing wrong with collecting their eggs that would go to rot anyway. I don’t think it’s exploiting the animal, I would kind of compare it to a guide dog.. a pet with a purpose!! That’s just my opinion though. I am not a vegan, but I am going vegetarian and will probably transition towards vegan after that. I fully agree that they way we produce animal products and indeed all food products (as Jon mentioned) is in a terrible state of affairs today. It’s awful in fact! Anyway, you had some great points in your post. I wanted to ask you a question about some alternative sources of protein though. I suspect that I have irritable bowel syndrome and react pretty badly to legumes and beans (as well as onions, garlic and other foods high in FODMAPS). Do you recommend any other sources (other than tofu) of vegan protein. Thanks!

  33. Erin Elizabeth -HealthNutNews September 13, 2015 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    Well written post. What got me was the announcement of her LEATHER Suede, cashmere and other dead animal skin- shoe line. It’s already out for sale. Look it up. Mainstream is just starting to post about how she’s selling leather. Why not tell the designers to do a beautiful vegan line instead? She could have inspired so many… but instead….

    Now I’m a former fan 🙁


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