VWPA Advice #003: What About Pet Chickens’ Eggs?
What about pet chickens – why not eat their eggs?
How do I respond when carnists ask this question?
Mine is a surprisingly complicated answer for a seemingly simple question. It gets into varying schools of thought between vegans, the ethics of having pets, and different views on health.
I will start off by saying that some vegans DO eat their pet chickens’ eggs, so not all vegans don’t. Some vegans rescue hens and do their best to give the hens good autonomous lives, and occasionally pick up eggs that were lain and discarded to consume.
And this is where things get so complicated. We could delve into whether any amount of animal product is “healthy” . We could talk about the ethics of pet ownership, as Callie and I did in episode 11. And we could approach the very philosophical idea that the eggs are not meant for us, and therefore should not be eaten by us.
Let’s take them one by one:
- Health: all the research I’ve read said that a SMALL amount of animal products in an otherwise vegan diet are not harmful, though not necessarily of any benefit either. So the strictly health argument fails here as a reason to not eat them sparingly.
- Pet Ownership: buying and owning chickens for the purpose of eating their eggs is clearly unethical in my book. As we discuss in the pets episode, anytime you purchase life with the intention of owning it, you are participating in speciesism. However, adopting hens that have been rescued from dire situations that need a good home? This is a good thing. It’s the best thing we can do in a difficult situation. So, eating those eggs? Not as clear cut for me.
- Not Ours to Take: there is the argument that eggs, like honey, are simply not ours to take. Let the egg be eaten by the chicken (yes, they do this sometimes) or by a wild animal, or let it break and decompose and go back into the earth. But don’t take it for your own consumption.
I struggle with this topic mightily. On one hand, it doesn’t bother me that someone who has rescued hens might be walking along and come across an egg or two that have been lain and abandoned, eggs that are not fertilized and thus do not contain life. On the other hand, I can see the merits in the “not ours to take” argument.
I think there’s something a little…incestual?…about rescuing and caring for animals whose bodily secretions you consume. We don’t ask our dogs or cats to produce anything for us; if our chickens are truly pets and not property, it seems like we would give them the same freedom from production. If veganism is avoiding the exploitation of animals as much as is possible, it does feel exploitative to me to invite chickens into safety while plotting to eat from them. I guess it feels like they are still food to you, even if you aren’t eating their bodies.
I think there is a fourth argument here, echoed in the unease of the above paragraph, which is the “slippery slope” argument (as much as I hate that phrase). I know vegans who can eat the occasional egg from their rescued hens and continue to lead a passionately vegan life, but I feel for most people keeping any animal products in their diet will prevent a full transition into veganism, and fully embrace of those ideals.
The most powerful moment in my entire vegan journey was the moment I realized that animal products were no longer food to me. I don’t think that would’ve happened had I kept eating eggs along the way, even those procured in the best of circumstances. Once I had shut that door tight, it still took a very long time for me to work through my carnism, my speciesism, and it’s a journey I will probably be on for the rest of my life. I don’t think I would have come as far in my journey if I was still consuming eggs, even occasionally.
I read a great article on Free From Harm that touches on this topic: What’s the Point of Keeping a Hen Who Cannot Lay Eggs? This poses a great litmus test: are you adopting the pet chickens FOR their eggs? Would you adopt one who couldn’t lay any?
I know I didn’t really answer this question, or give you a good snappy response for when it’s posed by a carnist, but this is something I’m still working my way through and I think it’s ok to admit sometimes that we don’t have all the answers. This is one I’d love to hear from others on, I know people feel passionately on both sides of this issue.
I have to agree that unfortunately there probably isn’t a really clear cut or direct answer for this… I don’t think I would take someone’s “vegan-card” if they ate the occasional egg from their rescue chicken, but I don’t necessarily condone it either. I think believing that eating eggs is ok still smacks of a sense of ownership over animals. That they are lesser beings than us and we can take from them as long as we treat them “well” or have good intentions.
I know I know… but what harm is REALLY being done by eating the eggs? Well quite honestly I don’t know that there is direct harm being done to the chicken. And as much as I usually HATE slippery slope arguments (and I can’t even believe I’m using one right now) but I really do think that as long as we continue to view animals and their excretions as products we can consume, then we will always leave the door open for exploiting them.
I think it’s possible that some people might adopt rescue chickens, so they can eat their eggs without feeling guilty. Then you end up with rescue chickens that have found homes, but maybe some of them end up still being treated more like property than a living being. I’m sure that there are people out there now who love and take care of rescue chickens because they genuinely care about the animals and are able to eat the eggs without abusing the situation, but I think this could be the exception and not necessarily the rule.