Every now and then, we receive a question to our inbox that stirs up quite a discussion. This article is about one we shared with our community members recently: assuming that the chickens are home grown, laying eggs, and living in good conditions, are there any ethical problems with consuming their eggs? Would doing so mean that you are not vegan? Nothing could have prepared us for the passionate discussion that followed on our Facebook page.
While it’s obvious to most of us that eating eggs is not a vegan thing to do at its very essence (as it conflicts and contradicts with the definition of veganism) being vegan is about much more than obeying rules and definitions. Veganism is about healthy, logical, and compassionate choices, a greater awareness, and common sense. Therefore, as many of you commented, sometimes it’s worthwhile to look beyond the definition, and try to truly understand the reasons behind the answers we give.
Understanding the ethics of eating eggs that come from home grown chickens is no easy task. Here are a few questions and guidelines that might help:
Where are we getting the chickens from?
One of the first things to consider is how we came by these ‘home grown’ chickens. We all know that the egg industry is one of the cruelest industries out there, killing over 280 million male chicks a year, as soon as they are born, simply because they aren’t profitable.
Please don’t ever buy hens from chicken breeders, farms, or anyone connected to the chicken and egg industry. Buying chickens from these suppliers directly supports the cruelty and the death of other chickens. By contrast, adopting hens from a farm sanctuary not only saves hens from horrible conditions and a gruesome death, but also allows the farm sanctuary more space to open their arms to other chickens in need of rescue. With that said, even when adopting from a farm sanctuary, you should still be asking how the sanctuary came by those chickens: Did they rescue them? Did they pay the battery farm for them? Maybe they ‘found’ them? These questions might affect your decision as to whether you want to adopt from that animal sanctuary.
Are we really providing them with good living conditions?
Offering the chickens good living conditions doesn’t just mean not killing them once they are past their productive hen-laying lives, but also about providing proper vet care, having enough outdoor space, providing proper food, and proper shelter. Chickens should be treated like any pet with demands for love and attention. If you are truly interested in adopting chickens, try to read some of the sanctuary’s adoption policies first, to see if you can really commit.
Using the eggs for the chicken’s benefit rather than our taste buds
In their natural state, hens only lay eggs until they have a full nest. At this point, they would naturally stop laying eggs and start nesting. The egg industry interrupts this natural process by constantly removing the eggs, therefore constantly encouraging the chickens to lay more eggs to fill their nest.
The laying of every single egg involves great effort on the hen’s part. In intense farming situations, some chickens even die in the process as a result of the pressure on their laying organs.
Every egg also involves a tremendous loss of calcium from the hen. This goes to producing the shell of the egg, protecting what would be their future babies. In the egg industry, most hens have been genetically nurtured for productivity purposes; the animals are brought to the very edge of their egg production capabilities, and therefore suffer from a tremendous loss in calcium which in many cases leads to disease and painful deaths.
But what has this got to do with home grown eggs?
One of the ways hens can restore the terrible calcium loss is by eating their own eggs.
While many websites teach people how to prevent hens from eating their own eggs, so that they could get to steal them first, we must understand that by not taking their eggs, we are helping the hens in two ways:
- We are not encouraging them to lay more eggs.
- We are allowing them to restore the nutrients they have lost by allowing them to eat their own eggs.
To encourage the hens to eat their eggs and restore their nutritional needs, cracking the eggs slightly helps to initiate the consumption process. A cracked egg means an egg that won’t turn into a chick, which in turn allows the hen to eat it. Some even boil the eggs and give them back to the chickens to eat if they do not eat the fresh ones. Needless to say that in the egg and chicken industry, no one does them such favours.
What if the hen doesn’t eat them? What then?
One of the common concerns expressed by our community members was the wastage of the eggs, if they were not eaten by the hens, or collected and consumed. Assuming that there is no male around, and the eggs aren’t fertilized, will they not just be wasted?
For many of us it is very clear that even if they were “wasted”, they are better off wasted than consumed, due to the terrible health damages they cause to your arteries. The question for those of us who are vegan for ethical reasons still remains open though.
If there are still some eggs left after the hen’s consumption, there are still other ways to use the eggs for a better purpose:
One of my favourite stories is of a lovely vegan bed and breakfast in Australia that also serves as a farm sanctuary. They sell leftover eggs to people who would otherwise buy eggs from the egg and chicken industry. While selling eggs to people has its problems – as it might seem to normalize the consumption of eggs – they are still achieving three goals with their actions:
- The chickens get to enjoy their eggs for their nutritional benefits.
- They are helping to minimize the profit of the cruel egg and chicken industry buy having people buying from them rather than the farmers.
- All the money they make from the chicken’s eggs goes straight back to the chicken’s benefit in the form of the food they buy them, the shelter they provide and the veterinary care they need.
And if you are still not convinced, you could always use the leftover eggs for making compost.
Please share your thoughts with us. What do you think of the ethical questions regarding egg consumption from home grown hens?