by Dana Parsons
Los Angeles Times Orange County Edition
Friday, April 28, 2006
It’s been four years since I last interviewed Karen Davis, because, frankly, you readers haven’t indicated much interest in chickens. And since our feathered friends happen to be the focal point of Davis’ life . . . well, you see the problem.
But with International Respect for Chickens Day fast approaching, it seemed like the perfect time to phone Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, and see what’s up with chickens.
I know what you’re thinking. Here come the condescending chicken jokes. Shame on you.
When I spoke to Davis in 2002, she was decrying a Carl’s Jr. TV ad that showed a man inspecting a live chicken in a futile search for “nuggets.” The ad was meant to spoof competitors who sold chicken nuggets. Davis thought the ad demeaned the chicken and that the filming process likely stressed out the bird.
In all honesty, I did a first-rate job on the column, and yet, not a peep from readers.
Anyway, International Respect for Chickens Day is Thursday, and Davis’ public relations machinery is greased. Her group wants you to contact newspapers and talk shows and do whatever you can think of to draw attention to the plight of chickens, which she says remains dreadful. She suggests leafleting on street corners and initiating office water-cooler conversations about chickens.
Davis, who lives in coastal Virginia, remembered our ’02 conversation. She sounded happy to hear from me. As delicately as possible, I raised the issue of people ridiculing a day of respect for chickens.
“I don’t have any illusions about where chickens are positioned in the world and people’s minds,” she said, “but we have seen a steady increase in the respectful treatment of chickens since we started in 1990.” She hastened to say that has come from the public and not the poultry industry, which she says continues to make the lives of fowl a living hell.
I suggested that her group faces a double whammy. People love chicken and probably aren’t aware of how they’re treated in captivity. She agrees and realizes the day when people stop eating chickens probably is far, far away. Another problem, of course, is that people in the workaday world won’t focus on the problems of chickens. Not to be presumptuous, but I suspect they’re like me. They would deplore cruelty to chickens but have it way down on the list of things to worry about.
I don’t say that glibly; it’s just the way things are.
“We understand things are slow, and it’s an uphill battle,” Davis says, “but it’s a battle worth waging on its own. I believe these chickens should have a voice that cares, speaking out for them and wanting to change how people perceive and treat them. But even if I thought we’d lose, if this whole education effort fails somehow and if the forces arrayed against us are too strong, the fact is I believe we should be there for these birds.”
Davis says her enlightenment came in 1985 when, while living on a farm, “I met this chicken named Viva.” Actually, she found the chicken in a run-down coop and named it, but that’s beside the point.
She took the chicken home, but a congenital disease eventually led to its euthanasia.
Her love for poultry has only deepened since. And she can handle the jokes. “It sounds like a cliché to say it, but every social justice movement at first has been subjected to ridicule,” she says. “Ridicule is part of things, when you’re attempting to draw attention to the plight of human beings or non-human beings who were traditionally outside the pale of moral consideration or who were denigrated or sort of snickered at.”
I doubt the masses will atone, but I like Davis’ passion in speaking out for chickens who . . . you get the point.
With that in mind, would it sound insincere if, in a combination of metaphor and realism, I suggest that on Thursday, instead of having a chicken for lunch, you take one?
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Machipongo, VA 23405-0150