Every fortnight I receive a delivery of 12 dozen eggs from Hen Nation, which I distribute to neighbours and family members. Hen Nation has a flock of 1200 hens, who would have been destroyed by the farming industry, having been deemed to be past the age of reliable egg-laying (about 72 weeks). Were it not for Hen Nation, these animals would be dead rather than living out their natural lives in a genuinely free range environment.
From time to time, on Vegan blogs and forums, the question comes up about whether it is vegan to eat eggs from rescue hens (or backyard hens). Here are a couple of responses from a recent Facebook post which posed that question:
So often, these forums lack any kind of nuance, or attempt to understand another point of view. So I decided to take a bit more time here, to work through my own thoughts on the matter. Full disclosure: when I first became vegan, I did occasionally eat the Hen Nation eggs. I still described myself as vegan, because I felt that this was the best-fit label for my diet and lifestyle choices. More recently, without having made a firm decision on the matter, I realised that I hadn't eaten any of these eggs for many months, and had no desire to. It would seem odd now for me to eat something that has come out of the body of animal. But this is something that has happened slowly and naturally for me. Not because I was attached to the label of being 'vegan'. I do still buy them for my family and neighbours, who would otherwise be eating organic eggs from supermarket which, as we all know, involve the slaughter of male chicks and also of the hens themselves once their laying slows down. Rescue hen's eggs, in my opinion, are the most ethical option apart from not eating eggs at all.
Of course, rescue hens shouldn't exist. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if there was nothing to rescue them from! But they do, and the alternative for them is death.
Many farm animal sanctuaries do not sell eggs. They either feed them back to the hens, replacing valuable lost calcium from the artificial breeding practices that have resulted in hens laying eggs every day, rather than once a month as their wild ancestors would have done. Imagine breeding a human female to have a constant period from the age of 8. Imagine the health problems that would result from such a hideous experiment. But hens lay too many eggs to be able to eat them all and resaborb the calcium. I grew up on an organic smallholding and we had hens wandering about all over the place. I would often find abandoned eggs hidden in hay bales near their run, so I know for sure that hens do NOT always sit on their eggs. At Hen Nation there are no roosters, so none of the laid eggs will be fertile. So what else could they do with the leftover eggs? They could leave them for wild animals in the area to scavenge, an option some sanctuaries take... or they could sell them and use the money so maintain the sanctuary and rescue more hens. This is what Hen Nation have chosen to do, and I am happy to support them.
Remember, the definition of veganism is a lifestyle in which you seek, as far as practicable and possible, to avoid the cruelty and exploitation of animals. I would be hard-pressed to understand how anyone could think these rescued hens are subject to cruelty or explotiation. The products of their bodies are being used for their own benefit, rather than a financial gain for a farmer or nutrition for a human. The only sticking point is that they exist as a result of cruelty and exploitation. Maybe one day we will live in a world of wild hens again, and their poor ravaged bodies will evolve naturally back towards their original state. Here's hoping.
One of the things I want to explore in this blog are the 'grey areas' of veganism. Some things are very black and white. If you knowingly eat meat, fish and dairy products then you are not vegan. You are omnivore, pescatarian or vegetarian. We can all agree on that, I think? But there are some other things that tend to cause arguments in vegan forums and groups. I'll be writing short blog posts on some of these 'grey areas', and thought I would start with owning pets...
Many vegans, although not all, think it's fine to own pets. Or to have animal companions, to use better 'vegan' language! However feeding pets with meat products is a more contentious area. I have a very beautiful rescue dog, Lola. I feed her with a vegan dry food and supplement her diet with organic meat and bones. She is not fully vegan, but I feel that I'm avoiding the worst of the intensively farmed animal products in her diet. It's a compromise for me, and one that I feel a bit uncomfortable with, partly because it involves handling meat when I feed her, which I find distasteful. I know that I could feed her an entirely vegan diet at home (although she'd still scavenge when out on her walks - nothing will ever prevent that!) but something is holding me back from taking that step.
I'd love to hear about your pets, whether they are vegan. I know that the arguments around whether cats can be vegan are particularly contentious, with most people coming down on the 'no, they can't' side.
The only thing I'm not really interested in, is people saying that "if you feed your pet meat then you are not vegan, because you are contributing to the meat industry by buying meat for your pet." You may make this choice for yourself, but I don't think it's one you can impose on other people and exclude them from the "vegan club" - we are all different and make different choices. None of us are perfect, but we're all trying our best to think compassionately and carefully about the choices we make.
Other 'grey areas' that I'd like to explore include:
Let me know if there are any other things that have caused arguments or debates!