At first glance, I might seem to most people like a pretty standard Cal student. I am a senior studying Wildlife Ecology and Chicano Studies. I love hanging out with my friends, I laugh a lot and really loudly, and I have a really positive outlook on the world. During the day I attend my classes and do my homework like everyone else. At night, however, I am involved in projects that may surprise many of my friends. In the dead of night, I climb over barbed wire fences and document California’s animal farms.
This past weekend, a virtual reality film of me and several others, “Operation Aspen,” investigating a farm premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The so-called humane egg farm we went to in the late fall supplies Whole Foods and visiting there upended any ideas I used to have about our world being a just place.
We visited the farm after a long day of school and homework. We pulled up to the facility in the dead of night. As we walked through the cold wet grass and hopped the barbed wire fence I began to imagine what we would find inside. My heart was racing as I walked as quietly as possible while I looked around to see if there was any activity at the facility. We approached the facility and from the outside, I could hear the roar of the fans circulating ammonia-filled air inside the sheds and the cries of the hens. The doors were unlocked so we pulled them open. As far as my eyes could see were rows of cages, thousands of cages filled with tens of thousands of hens. The hens were only a few weeks old and my heart ached knowing that they were going live in these cages for their entire short lives until the day they would be killed by mass gassing or another cheap and cruel method of killing.
On most egg cartons we see feel-good labels about happy hens, however, I saw with my own eyes the reality of egg productions. I saw hens whose feet were mutilated and embedded in the wire of their cages, I saw the agony in their eyes and heard many gasping for air as they were trampled by their sisters, many were suffering infections in their vents, broken wings and prolapses.
We rescued one of the hens, named Ava. She could barely walk when we found her, her feet flattened by the wire cage into being the shape of pancakes. I carried her weak and miserable body out of that facility, and we raced her to a sanctuary. This was at Sunrise Farm, a farm certified “humane” by the American Humane Association.
I have now participated in investigations of the most humane egg farms in the country and at every farm, I have seen dead hens laying in filth, hens cannibalizing each other, hens with mutilated feet and open infected wounds, and hens suffering prolapses and other infections.
When I go throughout my day on campus, going to class and participating in extracurriculars, my day is frequently interrupted by reminders of these horrid sights. I see eggs from this farm being sold at Safeway here in Berkeley, and I think of Ava and the hens I have seen. I see eggs being served in Golden Bar Cafe and in the dining halls and it breaks my heart. After going into so many farms – so many of the “best” farms – I see an egg, something which is often seen as innocent, in a radically different way. This past week, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus closed amid Americans’ growing realization that wild animal acts are inherently inhumane.
Having been inside so many farms, though, I can’t help but ask: In the future, will we also see animal agriculture the same way?