Note: Broiler chickens, as the meat industry calls them, are those chickens raised for their meat, as distinct from laying hens. This poem relates to the practices of commercial chicken-farming adopted worldwide. The information in this poem is derived from the following sources:
Animal Ethics: https://www.animal-ethics.org/animal-exploitation-section/animals-used-food-introduction/chickens-hens/
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/chickens/chicken-industry/
First published in Literary Veganism: An Online Journal, 8 August 2021
You pull your cardigan tighter as you walk through the cold section, pausing at the rows of shining plastic-covered poultry, on special fifty billion chickens and hens are killed every year for human consumption Later, in your state-of-the-art kitchen, you unpack the bird and wash it thoroughly because, as your sister says, you just never know they spend their lives confined in crowded sheds, permanently treading in their own excrement You lay it down in your baking tray, drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle it with coarsely ground pepper and Himalayan sea salt (you never could resist that pink) unable to move properly or spread their wings, they become so distressed they start to attack one other Prising it open, you spoon in the moistened aromatic breadcrumb-and-herb stuffing – your speciality! – until its cavity is well and truly full some avoid eating altogether so as not to be attacked, dying of starvation, dehydration or cardiac arrest You circle it with potatoes, carrots and garlic cloves, stepping back to admire the effect – it’s a good plump bird alright, enough to feed a family of seven fattened up to twice their natural body weight, most struggle to stand, their legs weakened and deformed An hour and a half later, you set the table in the apricot glow of the late summer sun (kids at the far end). Ah, the joys of alfresco dining! the first daylight the chickens see is by truck on their way to the slaughterhouse At dinner, you raise a toast to celebrate long life and your husband’s father’s seventieth birthday, drawing a shawl of pure contentment about you at six to eight weeks, they are killed; in their natural habitat, they live up to fifteen years
Denise O’Hagan is an award-winning editor and poet, born in Rome and based in Sydney. With a background in commercial book publishing in London and Sydney, she set up her own imprint, Black Quill Press, in 2015 to assist independent authors. Recipient of the Dalkey Poetry Prize, her work appears in various journals including The Copperfield Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Quadrant, Books Ireland, Eureka Street and Hecate. Her second poetry collection, Anamnesis, is forthcoming (Recent Work Press, 2022).