Eating Animals | Free-Range Bull Shit

Step your mind into a crowded elevator, an elevator so crowded you cannot turn around without bumping into (and aggravating) your neighbor. The elevator is so crowded you are often held aloft. This is a kind of blessing, as the slanted floor is made of wire, which cuts into your feet. After some time, those in the elevator will lose their ability to work in the interest of the group. Some will become violent; others will go mad. A few, deprived of food and hope, will become cannibalistic.

There is no respite, no relief. No elevator repairman is coming. The doors will open once, at the end of your life, for your journey to the only place worse.


  1. The shit of a bull
  2. Misleading or false language and statements, such as:


Applied to meat, eggs, dairy, and every now and then even fish (tuna on the range?), the free-range label is bullshit. It should provide no more peace of mind than “all-natural,” “fresh,” or “magical.”

To be considered free-range, chickens raised for meat must have “access to the outdoors,” which, if you take those words literally, means nothing. (Imagine a shed containing thirty thousand chickens, with a small door at one end that opens to a five-by-five dirt patch—-and the door is closed all but occasionally.)

The USDA doesn’t even have a definition of free-range for laying hens and instead relies on producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims. Very often, the eggs of factory-farmed chickens—-chickens packed against one another in vast barren barns—-are labeled free-range. (“Cage-free” is regulated but means no more or less than what it says—-they are literally not in cages.) One can reliably assume that most “free-range” (or “cage-free”) laying hens are debeaked, drugged, and cruelly slaughtered once “spent.” I could keep a flock of hens under my sink and call them free-range.

The typical cage for egg-laying hens allows each sixty-seven square inches of floor space–about the size of a sheet of printer paper. Such cages are stacked up to eighteen tiers high, in windowless sheds.

Broiler Chickens

Not all chickens have to endure battery cages. In this way, it could be said that broilers—-chickens that become meat (as opposed to layers, chickens that lay eggs)—-are lucky: they tend to get close to a single square foot of space. If you aren’t a farmer, what I’ve just written probably confuses you. You probably thought that chickens were chickens. But for the past half century, there have actually been two kinds of chickens—-broilers and layers—-each with distinct genetics. We call them both chickens, but they have starkly different bodies and metabolisms, engineered for different “functions.” Layers make eggs. (Their output has more than doubled since the 1930s.) Broilers make flesh. (In the same period, they have been engineered to grow more than twice as large in less than half the time. Chickens once had a life expectancy of fifteen to twenty years, but the modern broiler is typically killed around six weeks. Their daily growth rate has increased roughly 400-percent.)

This raises all kinds of bizarre questions—-questions that before I learned about our two types of chickens, I’d never had reason to ask—-like, What happens to all of the male offspring of layers? If man hasn’t designed them for meat, and nature clearly hasn’t designed them to lay eggs, what function do they serve?

They serve no function. Which is why all male layers—-half of all the layer chickens born in the United States, more than 250-million chicks a year—-are destroyed.

Destroyed? That seems like a word worth knowing about. Most male layers are destroyed by being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate. Other layer chicks are destroyed in other ways, and it’s impossible to call those animals more or less fortunate. Some are tossed into large plastic containers. The weak are trampled to the bottom, where they suffocate slowly. The strong suffocate slowly at the top. Others are sent fully conscious through macerators (picture a wood chipper filled with chicks). Cruel? Depends on your definition of cruelty.

Is it anthropomorphism to try to imagine yourself into a farmed animal’s cage? Is it anthropodenial not to?

Text Adapted and Reprinted from Eating Animals by Johnathan Safren Foer; Image by Aleutia


3 thoughts on “Eating Animals | Free-Range Bull Shit

  1. which is why its so important to not only know your farmer, but your animal husbandry peeps as well. free range can be bull shit, but it can also be real. so stick with the little guys you can talk to and visit.

    1. Ninety nine-percent of all animal farms in the united states are factory farms. The remaining one-percent are either tenacious last-standing old-timers who have been fending off the corporatization of their means of production or else new-husbandry farmers horrified by standard factory-farm conditions and who want to throw a monkeywrench into a system that profits off systemic/systematic abuse and torture of sentient beings capable of experiencing lifelong misery and suffering. I don’t have space in this forum to enumerate the (sickening) sweep of the animal-agriculture industry in the U.S. (and, frankly, in many countries in the E.U., whose citizens can hold their heads no higher, because the standards are only marginally more-accountable to the animals/farm workers/environment) and, because I’m responding to somebody who knows as much (well, honestly, probably much, much more, especially at an experiential-level on the farm), I don’t have to mine these ills. While I firmly believe that the consumption of dead animal flesh is completely lacking in necessity in developed, first-world countries where grocery stores teem with abundant grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, not to mention staggering arrays global fruits and vegetables (another globalization-of-the-food-production-system that, indeed, you know much, much, much more about through your activism in Thailand), I also believe that the remaining one-percent of alternative animal-agriculture farms are retaining and reviving a means of production that would otherwise have been completely erased from our culture, which is nothing to say of heritage breeds that can actually reproduce and live on their own (which factory-farmed chickens—I’ll refer to them as these broilers and layers were the impetus for you/my comments). Will I ever eat animal flesh? No. Do I want to contribute to the toppling of the factory farm? Yes. Do I believe that the remaining one-percent of small-scale animal-husbandry professionals are a key to overturning a foul, corrupted system that is the single-greatest polluter on the planet (greater, even, than all means of transport—-yes, planes, trains, trucks, ships, automobiles *combined—and that has enshrined wanton disregard for life, of both human and non-human animals, while putting the literal byproducts of violence and atrocity on our plates and in our children? Yes. And, in this sense, I am mightily, heartily, full-fledged committed to those farms where consumers can visit and not be terrorized by the sounds of animals bellowing in misery and pain. That said, exceptionalism isn’t what the above post refers to. It refers to the 99-percent. And, unfortunately, it is only precious few curious, animal-flesh customers who would have the option of visiting one of these farms, as there are comparatively none in the overwhelming shadow cast by factory farms. Also, as an important, and perhaps more impacting and illustrative side-note, did you know that the founder of Neiman Ranch (a farm that, yes, gives its cows and pigs a good, happy life, but one that also includes branding—completely unnecessary nod to an tradition that effectively tortures, burns, and mutilates an animal—and that doesn’t oversee the slaughter, so that the animal’s end is a barbarous conclusion to an otherwise good, happy life) was jettisoned by his board of investors who, in efforts to maximize profit on their shareholder-stake ethical farm, required Neiman to begin morally compromising his means of production in ways that he refused to do, so that now the Ranch is his by name alone.

    2. Ellen! I didn’t that last comment and it’s full of weird grammatical inconsistencies and dropped sentences that makes me sound sort of like one of those crazy people, but despite its logical holes, I know you appreciate its sentiment and the sincerity of my words! And, what’s more, I would love for you to respond. Love you, abs

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