Noisy Water Review

Chicken Little:
Juxtaposing My Feathered Friends in the Style of Susan Griffin

By Frances Sauter

I am one of 10 billion chicks hatched in the U.S. annually.

One in every five poultry workers is injured on the job.

In 2nd grade, I drew a picture of my dad butchering chickens. A dead chicken hangs on a fence in the background, a simple circle with two yellow legs sticking up towards the sun. A smiling man stands nearby, holding out a large ax like a child admiring a new toy. In the center, a table boasts a plate of drumsticks, a dish of eggs, and a bowl of peanuts. There is also a horse with a head twice the size of his body, and a man and woman stepping onto the scene to partake in the feast. Below the picture I have written, Meat is a tasty treat. These are the meats I like to eat: nuts, eggs, and chicken. By Frances.

I am still a baby. A rough hand shoves my beak into a machine. An eighth of an inch is seared off. Hot, blazing pain. I scream. Smoke rises. Blood falls.

Annual chicken consumption has risen from 27.4 pounds per person in 1970 to 59.2 pounds per person in 2004.

In the 1950s, it took 84 days for me to grow to five pounds. Now it takes 45.

Workers process 190 birds per hour, up from 143 ten years ago.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, we went to the Post Office to pick up a box. It was a cardboard box with lots of holes. And through the holes we could see little white chicks, baby Leghorns. We brought them home and gave them a nice pen all to themselves. They needed sugar water to prevent dehydration, and lots of grower ration. They pooped a lot, so we had to change their newspaper four times a day.  Once they were old enough, we let them out into the big wide world. They loved to peck around for seeds and insects. Sometimes they took dust baths under our front porch. They were feisty bunch, and loved to flap around and squawk and squabble. Every night we locked them in their coop to protect them from hungry coyotes. After 8-10 weeks, they had grown big and strong. One afternoon, my sister and I were assigned to the task of catching all of the chickens. We had a blast racing after them. We chased them until they got tired, then trapped them in the corner of a stall, and snatched them up as they struggled to dodge us our fly away. We handed them off to my dad, who chopped the chicken’s head off with one fell swoop. Then we watched as the chickens were hung upside down on the fence, and blood dripped out of their necks. After they bled out, the chickens were dropped in a pot of boiling water to loosen their feathers. My sister and I watched as my mom plucked out the long white feathers. After the quills were removed, my dad took a sharp knife and cleaned out the guts. Then the birds were bagged and put in our freezer.

I am trapped. 20,000 other bodies press against my own, a flood of white robots. Space is nonexistent.

Workers make the same repetitive cutting motion up to 40,000 times per shift. Their cumulative trauma injuries are 33 times the national manufacturing average.

Arsenic found in the growth-promoting drug, Roxarsone. Eating 2 ounces of chicken a day exposes you to 3 to 5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic, which may lead to skin, respiratory, and bladder cancer.

One worker says: “I worry every day that I will break my hand or get hurt, but I never say anything for fear I’ll lose my job. No American would do this job. This is a shit job for shit money.”

Dust and feathers choke me. Ammonia burns my eyes.

Kapparos. My wings are wrenched back behind body. Sweaty fingers pinch my wings together, a rush of pain in my tendons. High, high, high I am lifted, above a man’s head, looking down on a black hat, I am swung around in a circle. Three times I orbit around, each time the fiery pain shooting through my nerves. “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement, this rooster shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.” In a matter of seconds, my throat is slit. An instant of indescribable agony. My head falls to the ground. A stream of red spurts out of my open neck as my heart continues to beat. Soon, I will be given to the poor for food.

Steroids and antibiotics course through my veins. 11 million pounds of antibiotics are used in poultry feed each year.

During the 1990s, industry profits rose over 300 percent. Wages for workers have increased less than 1 percent over the past decade.

Six weeks of hell are past and gone. My body is a lead weight. I spend 76 to 86 percent of my time lying in my own excrement. My bulbous breast is blistered and burned. My legs are useless.

Illegal immigrants and people in their early teens are lured to meatpacking plants by radio advertisements in Mexico.

My Baci died when I was 11 years old. I remember having dinner at her house as a young child. We would have chicken, tasty drumsticks layered with breadcrumbs. I would peel off the skin and save it for last. I don’t remember much about my Baci, but I hold what I do remember close to my heart. Chicken has always had a special meaning to me because the flavor brings back memories of my childhood. Everything about chicken, chicken sandwiches, chicken soup, baked chicken, fried chicken, KFC chicken, it all rings a bell and conjures up a foggy image of my late grandmother. While it may sound pathetic, chicken is the only link I have to her, my only authentic memory of her. But at least it is something that I know and love, something I have experienced through life and death, something I have always known and always will know.

Many are dying. Respiratory disease, bronchitis, heat prostration, infection, cancer, heart failure, dehydration, etc.

Intimidation and harassment silence pro-union employees.

If you grew as fast as me, you would weigh 349 pounds at age 2. 

A chicken hanger suffers from “claw-hand,” in which injured fingers lock in a curled position.

Confucian wedding. I sit solemnly in a soft lap. I am here as a substitute for the absent, bed-ridden bride. I hear heavy words floating through the air. Sincere. A red scarf has been wrapped around my head. It is silk and very smooth. I am enjoying all of this attention. I resist the urge to cluck in contentment. I ruffle my feathers with pride.

Help. One leg is snatched up. My body hangs down like a bulging weight. The brittle bones of my legs threaten to crack. For a fraction of a second, I am free. Flying through the air. Thud. I crash down. Stuck in a metal crate. The bodies of others pressing against mine.

In the black of night, a single catcher goes through 1,000 to 1,500 birds per hour. He will earn roughly $92 a day, as opposed to $108 a decade ago.  At the end of his shift, dust will cover him head to toe. He most likely suffers from campylobacter, pulmonary inflammation, pneumoconiosis, chronic bronchitis, and the effects of toxic waste.

Thousands of miles flash by. Torrents of icy liquid pelt my flesh. A forklift dumps me onto a conveyor belt.

One morning, I was brushing my teeth when I heard my mother creeping slowly down the stairs. She had been in agony for the past two weeks, suffering a severe bout of the flu. As she stumbled into the bathroom, a powerful cough racked her frail body, and she crouched over the sink to spit out a wad of barf-yellow mucus. Her hair was a rat’s nest of black tangles, and as she looked up, I noticed dark circles under her eyes. “Good morning,” I said as she snatched her 115th Kleenex box from the cupboard and hobbled into the kitchen. “Geh mouning,” she rasped, the words scraping through her phlegm-coated throat like fingernails against a whiteboard. I heard the microwave beep as she heated up chamomile tea. I glanced out the window. Suddenly, a magnificent bird swooped down from the cloudy sky. “Look!” I shrieked, “It’s a bald eagle!” Hmmm . . . “Where’s the camera?”

“Ahhhhhhhhhehhwalakay!” howled my mother as she sprinted out into the yard towards the little black Japanese bantam cowering on the lawn. “Damn it, you stupid bird!” she bellowed as the bald eagle snatched up the chicken. Her old plaid bathrobe blew heroically in the wind, her shaggy mane a knotted mess. And suddenly she began to cry, the fury pouring out in icy tears running down her pale green cheeks. Meanwhile, the eagle had soared off into the distance, the chicken nothing but a tiny black dot in his massive talons. “Shit!” she spat it out nastily, and kicked the ground. I watched from the bathroom window, bewildered by this display of emotion, this image of rage swathed in a dirty bathrobe. My father went out to comfort her. “It’s gonna be all right,” he said, helping her totter back towards the house. It was as though the aftereffects of her illness had just set in, making her seem weak and feeble.

Three days later, my mother got a big surprise. As she walked into the coop around 8 o’clock to lock up the chickens for the night, low and behold, what should she find, but little Japanese Rosecomb, perched up near the nesting boxes. Ever since, the pint-sized hen has gradually turned white as snow. The hen was safe and sound, but I was scarred for life. I would never forget how my mom, exhausted, hacking her brains out, sprang to the rescue of our diminutive hen. Boy, that adrenaline must have cursed through her veins as she summoned the strength of a warrior, ready to defend the beloved chicken. I have a feeling this story will live through the next generations, for no one wants to miss out on “Miracle Hen: The Chicken Who Kicked the Bald Eagle’s ***.”

Dizzy. Ankles strung up on metal shackles.

There is no time for factory workers to take proper safety precautions.

Scream. Immersed in water. A wave of electricity zaps through me. 10 percent the level required to knock me out.

Abuse of pharmaceuticals in chicken feed has led to fluoroquinolone  resistant campylobacter. Campylobacter are responsible for 2.4 million cases of food-borne illness per year.

In Chinese frescoes and Feng Shui, I symbolize reliability. I am the ideal of fidelity and punctuality. The Chinese name for my crest, guan, is that same as that of the official. If I am red, I protect the house from fire. If I am white, I chase away demons. When there are five of us, we remind parents to educate their sons.

I am still conscious as the sharp metal slashes at my throat. I thrash through my exhaustion. The mechanical blade cuts through my eyes instead.

It is Chinese New Year. My body will be presented as an offering. Cooked whole with my head, tail, and feet, it symbolizes prosperity, togetherness of the family, and joy.

I gently stroked the lustrous golden feathers of my enormous Cochin hen. I could smell the fresh scent of Casteel soap in her plumage. I had soaked her legs in mathalion wetable powder to eliminate external parasites hiding underneath her scales. After sponging her with sudsy water, I rinsed her with diluted vinegar solution. Now I let the warm air of the hair dryer ruffle her feathers and penetrate down to her damp skin. Later I gave her a once-over with a silky rag. A volunteer helped trim her nails with dog nail trimmers. Then I rubbed baby oil over her comb, wattles, feet, and shanks, and dusted her over with cornstarch to keep her clean. As I lift Buffy into her temporary cage, I check the wood shavings for any excrement. I make a mental note to refill her water in a couple of hours. Her yellow eyes stare back at me like miniature suns. “Hungry? Wait ‘til after Fit and Show.” What time is it? 3:43. At 4:00, Buffy and I will compete with the rest of the junior contestants at the Northwest Washington Youth Fair. My stomach is a swarm of butterflies. I have prepared Buffy to the best of my abilities; she is the epitome of a feathered fowl. Most importantly, she is an image of health and happiness. We have come a long way together, and we’ll get through this too. There is really no reason to feel nervous.

I am one of 8,400 chickens processed per hour.

High levels of dioxins in chicken fat can cause chloracne, skin rashes, discoloration, excessive body hair, liver damage, and increased risk of cancer.

I am still conscious as I enter the scalding tank of water. My skin bubbles. I am boiled alive.

Bibliography

“Animals’ Symbolism In Decoration, Decorative Arts, Chinese Beliefs, and Feng Shui.” One World Nations Online. Nations Online Copyright, n.d. Web.

“Chickens In Religion and Mythology.” Serving History – World History Served Up Daily. Discovery Media, 2010. Web

“A COK Report: Animal Suffering in the Broiler Industry.” Compassion Over Killing. COK, 2010: 1-7. Print.

“Factory Poultry Production.” Farm Sanctuary. Farm Sanctuary, Inc., 2009. Web. 15 May 2010.

“Food Symbolism During Chinese New Year Celebrations.” One World Nations Online. Nations Online Copyright, n.d. Web.

Schwartz, Richard. “The Custom of Kapparot in the Jewish Tradition.” Jewish Virtual Library, 2010. Web.

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