01 March 2012

Kansas art student puts the 'if slaughterhouses had glass walls' adage to the test, literally

An old adage among advocates of animal welfare suggests that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, most people -- if not all of them -- would stop eating meat. Now, this idea is being put to the test, as one such glass wall is quite literally set to be constructed in Lawrence, Kansas, giving the public an opportunity to witness the raising and killing of an animal for food.

Amber Hansen, an art student from the University of Kansas, received a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts' Rocket Grants program to create what is to be called "The Story of Chickens: A Revolution." The project aims to place chickens in a coop on wheels, granting people a chance to interact with the animals over the course of several weeks. Then, according to Hansen's original idea, the chickens are to be publicly butchered and served as part of a potluck dinner.

"By building a relationship with the birds, the project will transform the contemporary view of chickens as merely 'livestock' to the beautiful and unique creatures they are, while promoting alternative and healthy processes of caring for them," writes Hansen. "It will also make visible local groups who are already making efforts to do so."

Animal advocacy groups, while overly pleased at her efforts to raise awareness, have strongly condemned the killing as unnecessary.

Megan Willsen, the co-founder of Animal Outreach of Kansas in Lawrence, says she contacted Hansen after hearing her proposal: "The dialogue has been introduced, there has been discussion and public outcry online, the project has raised awareness, and there is no need for this to end in the betrayal, torture, and slaughter of the chickens."

Indeed, the point could easily be made without actually murdering the animals. To do otherwise seems largely counterproductive, as Hansen would be engaging in the very same exploitation and brutality she's condemning. 

Assistant City Attorney Chad Sublet has made it clear that the public slaughtering of chickens would be interpreted as a violation of the city’s animal cruelty code, which makes it illegal to "willfully or maliciously kill any domesticated animal." Chickens are considered domesticated fowl.

Hansen told The Kansas City Star that she hears all the criticisms, but doesn't want to respond to anyone in particular. "I just want to hear their voices," she says. There are also no plans on her behalf to fight the city's ruling -- a ruling that has raised more questions.

One question in particular that may spring to mind: why is it acceptable to butcher non-human animals so long as it's done out of the public's sight? The city maintains that the request would pose a health risk, but surely a slaughter could be carried out in a sanitized environment. Besides, by comparison, a chicken slaughtered on even the dirtiest road in Lawrence is still probably ten times cleaner and safer to eat than a chicken put to death in one of the many disease-filled, overcrowded factory farms dotting the country.

Even Hansen seems perplexed by the city's bizarre logic: "People can raise chickens and eat meat in the city limits, but this event can't take place," she said. "So, it raises a different set of questions for me."

If the idea of killing 5 chickens in public has created such widespread controversy, imagine what people might say if they knew that close to 10,000 chickens are slaughtered across the US every minute -- albeit in private. Such privacy is what has allowed farmers to get away with holocaust-like savagery against sentient creatures, which may explain why they are terrified of glass walls such as the one proposed by Hansen. It seems now more than ever, more such walls are needed, just so long as activists aren't perpetuating the violence behind them -- even for a noble cause.

Update: Chickens Will Not Be Slaughtered for “Art” in Lawrence, Kansas

Jonathan Reynolds
Jonathan is a freelance writer and blogger residing in upstate New York.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/lollyknit