When I found out that today is International Respect for Chickens Day, a time for the world to come together to celebrate the joys of poultryhood, my first thought was to fire up the barbecue.
Frankly, I can think of no better way to show my deep appreciation for a plump chicken than by steeping it in a garlicky marinade, grilling it to the peak of succulence and eating it with a side of roasted vegetables.
But after a more careful reading of the press release that showed up on my desk the other day, I realized that feasting on chicken is definitely not what the Virginia-based animal-rights activist group, which calls itself United Poultry Concerns, had in mind when they started their international campaign for chicken respect last year.
Karen Davis, the UPC’s founder and president, is urging us instead to spend today celebrating the “dignity, beauty and life of chickens.”
She believes them to be “lively birds that have been torn from the leafy world in which they evolved,” and that they should be restored at once to their peaceable green kingdoms and made safe from our ravenous, carnivorous jaws.
Chickens, in other words, are the Rodney Dangerfields of the animal world. They don’t get no respect, according to the UPC, which wants us to finally take a stand and “Stick up for chickens!” instead of chowing down on them.
Perhaps you’re so inclined to “do an ACTION” on this special day in the name of domestic fowl, as the group hopes you will. But what?
Do you park your car in front of a local chicken farm, pop in an Aretha Franklin tape on the cassette player, and blast “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me” over and over again?
Of course not. For one thing, the farmer would surely think you were crazy, maybe even a dangerous lunatic, and might call the cops to have you removed.
The chickens probably wouldn’t care for such a raucous protest, either. Skittish creatures that they are, they might wind up pecking one another to death, which surely would defeat your entire purpose.
So maybe you could dress up like a chicken instead, sneak into the meat department of the Shop n’ Save and physically block customers from placing chicken into their carts while you flap your wings and cackle “Free my poultry brethren!”
Not a good idea. Boneless breasts happen to be on sale all this week for just $1.89 a pound, so you might be in for a lot of nasty scratching and clawing.
The UPC does offer a few safer suggestions, though. They’re asking that educators, students, office workers and activists watch the movie “Chicken Run” together, set up library displays decrying chicken-farm conditions, or hand out leaflets on street corners.
According to the press release, poultry activists in Minneapolis will hold a “Most Beautiful Chicken Photo” contest today, while a group in Vancouver is staging street demonstrations featuring a huge hen named Henny to protest what they perceive as the suffering of egg-laying chickens in cages.
In case you’re wondering, the UPC is a vegan organization. They believe the eating of animals, or the use of animal by-products in any form, is wrong. Fair enough. But it’s hard to take their cause seriously when you read about their efforts to get people to “celebrate Easter without eggs,” their campaign against the White House Easter Egg Roll and their protest against the “Chicken Soup For the Soul” book series.
They’ve even complained about a company that makes rubber chickens, for goodness sakes, which they insist turn real-life “heroic protectors of their families and flocks” and “highly intelligent individuals” into mere laughing stocks.
On their Web site you can buy a button that says “Turkeys: Meet One, Don’t Eat One” and another with a picture of chickens and the words “Friends, Not Food.”
Its founder, who admits to spending lots of time in the company of pals of the poultry persuasion, wrote a letter to the Washington Post last year in which she said: “The day may come when to be called a ‘chicken’ or a ‘turkey’ will be rightly regarded as a salute to a person’s intelligence.”
With all due respect to chickens, that’s one of the most bird-brained statements I’ve read in a long time.