Some people have no sense of humor, and I guess I am one of them. Upon learning about a popular game, the rubber Chicken Toss, I was plunged into grief. Some of the people that I have come to love and trust find this game hilarious, but the existence of the rubber chicken itself is pretty horrifying to me. This chicken is not a distant cousin to the little rubber ducky, but rather a dead or dying featherless image that is all too reminiscent of the billions of gentle birds that meet a horrific end in slaughterhouses around the world.
I first heard about the Chicken Toss games in the context of school carnivals. This game is one that is considered fun by many local children. The object is to toss the rubber chicken into an actual toilet. This is a perfect metaphor for the complete lack of understanding or respect for other animals often displayed by us humans, but it nonetheless shocked me. Since I work to increase understanding and respect for other animals through my online advocacy as well as our local animal rights group, it seemed a sure sign that our work has just begun. We humans are already tossing billions of lives literally into the toilet by consuming their bodies and cycling their remains through our own bodies. This not only diminishes the lives of these birds, but it diminishes us as well.
Part of the Tribe
One of the reasons for the grief was admittedly self-centered. It is a wonderful feeling to be part of a group of hardworking people that share a common purpose; it is great to be part of the tribe you love. Then something comes along that forces a stand to be taken, and hearing about the Chicken Toss was just such an event for me. I was told it was a popular game; I was told the kids love it. I was assured that the children could distinguish between the rubber chicken and real chickens. I was assured the chickens were free-range and humanely killed. It was all fun and games.
Magnifying my sense of isolation was a bit of old speciesist language that came out in conversation with exactly the right person to awaken me. While discussing a politician, the term “chicken” was used (only for an instant, and corrected) while speaking to a friend who rescues chickens. I am learning to be gentle with myself about such lapses, and quickly correct them. I know I have only been vegan and aware of the impact of language for about ten percent of my life. It takes time to overcome the other ninety percent of indoctrination I have experienced, but I still cringe when it happens. Even with awareness, change takes time. I try to be gentle with my fellow humans as well, knowing how we are all part of a larger system that has us just as trapped as our unfortunate animal brethren.
Losing a Sense of Humor, Losing Friends
For humans to find the dead body of a featherless chicken amusing, they have to be separated from the reality of the living individuals that these rubber images represent. They cannot know of their distinct personalities, the way they interact with one another within a flock, the way they bathe in the dust, or nestle in little chicken holes, or run to greet even humans when they know them and feel safe. Commercial interests are very invested in maintaining this divide, because it allows them to reduce these animals to widgets on an assembly line. It allows them to steal their lives, lock them in ammonia-soaked sheds or even tiny cages, and to kill them in a brutal and inefficient manner at a horrifying speed.
Perhaps the most unnecessary suffering that exists for all animals is their use as entertainment. Dogs are used in dogfighting, elephants are trapped into circuses, and calves and horses are used in rodeos – and the list goes on and on and on. Even the use of the rubber chicken reinforces with every toss into a receiving toilet, that animals are not living, feeling, thinking beings but are objects for entertaining us. Their existence is for our use, for our pleasure. We have no need to consider them at all.
Creating and Bridging Divides
I am still learning how to bridge the divide with my fellow human beings. I know from my own mistakes that change does not happen overnight and that I cannot demand that anyone make changes at my pace or on my timeframe. I also know I cannot knowingly participate in anything that is so patently disrespectful to others, nor can I allow the very real horror for other animals to be reduced to something that is labeled an opinion or a belief. It is not — it is a fact. The challenge, though, is how to stand up for other animals without alienating the human kind of animal. It is the challenge of being an animal rights activist and one that I am still learning to accept. I have only to look to the gentle chicken to have an idea how to live within a flock, and to only imagine how painful for those who are taken away, hatched in a drawer, divided on an assemblyline, and either tossed into a suffocation bag or moved into production for eggs and flesh. I can only imagine the sense of betrayal for the birds raised in a more loving setting when they are being slaughtered. Because of their reality and my own awareness, it is imperative I keep trying to reach across the divide to others of my own species, my own tribe, my own community. At times it seems I only increase the divide, and at times that may be a necessary sacrifice to raise awareness in others. Learning to be an effective voice for other animals while bridging differences with fellow humans is a challenge. Being an independent sort, I know I can survive without my flock; but the challenge at hand is how to remain part of the larger group without remaining silent.