Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thinking about "Poultry"

While it's easy to get students, and the general public, to pay attention to the charismatic animals--pandas, polar bears, and the like--it's far harder to get anyone to pay attention to the lives of animals deemed by society as worthless, or worth nothing but a meal. That's the fate of chickens and turkeys, two animals who are raised, slaughtered, and consumed in the billions each year, and whose lives most people spend little to no time at all considering.

Showing films or film clips in a human-animal studies class that show the lives, intelligence, and emotions of chickens and turkeys is one way to open students' eyes to the idea that these animals do have inner lives, and do have needs, interests and wants, and that they can be just as interesting and deserving of our attention as pandas or koalas.

The Natural History of Chickens is a 2000 film which gives a variety of perspectives on chickens. It's often tongue in cheek and is not a "pro-chicken" film, but it does show chickens as far more than, to paraphrase Karen Davis "more than a meal."

Another fascinating film, this time on turkeys, is the 2011 film My Life as a Turkey. After a local farmer left a bowl of eggs on naturalist Joe Hutto’s front porch, he decided to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks as if they were his own children.  You can watch the entire film on the PBS website here.

Finally, another way to demonstrate the interesting personalities and inner lives of animals like chickens and turkeys is to show films made by animal sanctuaries or animal rights groups. Sandra Higgins of Matilda's Promise made a 2012 film on turkeys, filmed at Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary, called You Haven't Lived Until You've Hugged a Turkey. The film challenges the viewer to think of turkeys in a different way--from "food" to dignity, affection, and intelligence.

These films are a great way to demonstrate the social construction of animals, as well as to show the range of behaviors of animals who are little considered in our society.

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