Speak Your Piece: Lipstick on a Chicken

An Oregon farm stages a costume party to slaughter its chickens. Is the event a chance to learn more about where our food comes from, or a callous, hipster photo op? Or some of each?

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Modern Farmer, a stylish magazine that blends foodie and ag-related content aimed at a younger audience, stepped in a bit of chicken mess this week with an article about a group of ladies who dressed in pin-up costumes to slaughter chickens.

The event was an annual “Ladies’ Chicken Harvest” day at a Portland, Oregon, area farm that sells (and this may surprise you, based on the farm’s location – please excuse the sarcasm) pasture-raised chickens that have foraged on “green grass, dandelions, clover and bugs.” The idea is to give the farm’s customers a fun introduction to the process of getting a chicken from the pasture to the table, an admirable mission.

Much like a majority of commentators on the article, my first reaction to the piece was negative and fierce.

But why? What about the story, or myself, made me cringe so hard?

Certainly, if I was looking for reasons to dislike the article, there was plenty of fodder in the comments. For starters, many folks expressed a vague discomfort with the scene:

-I can't put my finger on why, but I absolutely hate this for some reason. And yes, I read the article and found it all a bit too twee for my taste.

– Feels a little creepy that they are doing it with a smile on their face.

– Slaughtering chickens is not a hipster photo op. Shame!

While others saw the fashion aspect as tacky and disrespectful:

I understand the women wanting to have a deeper connection to their food. And I understand the women wanting to dress in pinup style. I don't understand the combining of the two. It's a bit unsettling how much it looks like they enjoyed slaughtering chickens.

Why would you romanticize the slaughter of chickens? Seems a bit disrespectful to me. Slaughter is a necessary evil. … Shame on you.

While these ladies have every right to slaughter their chickens in any fashion (pun intended) they choose, I believe this takes something away from the seriousness of the task at hand and demeans it to a certain degree.

Others thought the event was a bit condescending, especially to women. One reader said a reference to how strong the farmhands were compared to the women was over the top:

– Thanks for that particularly patronizing comment. I spent a year on an organic farm run by two women, and not once, did any of us don lipstick, heels, or polka dot dresses in order to do the hard labor of raising food for the community. This article objectifies women and disrespects the lives of the animals shown. Where's the editor?

A brave few vocally supported the article, but they were generally drowned out by the clucking of disapproval.

None of the naysayers quite captured my own unease with the article, however.

Does dressing up as a 1950s pin-up girl, in cute aprons and lipstick, and killing chickens cheapen the sacrifice the chickens are making? No, I don’t believe that at all. The chickens on this farm have had, by all accounts, a pretty fantastic life as chicken lives go. Running around in the sun, eating bugs and green grass? Count me in for some of that.

And let’s be honest, no chicken has ever made a conscious choice to sacrifice its life for us. There are no dandelions in the killing cone. That’s something you either come to terms with or you stop eating meat.

Is it condescending to women? I am, admittedly, not the one to ask. But I think that not growing up on a farm shouldn’t exclude you from learning about where your food comes from, even if you’re wearing lipstick while doing it.

So here’s the answer I’ve come up with as why this bothers me so much:

It made me think about why I didn’t like it, which means thinking about my feelings. And that’s something I normally avoid like a house chore.

My first response was to judge harshly the motives of strangers, which is not the way I want to live my life. I would rather be generous and appreciate the efforts of the ladies to have experiences outside their comfort zones and the farmers trying make a living in an uber-competitive industry, small farming.

And that, in my opinion, makes my initial response tacky and disrespectful.

But still, the nagging feeling that something’s wrong with all this persists. You should stay true to your nature, be comfortable in your skin and always follow your gut.

And my gut says, “Cut it out.”

Shawn Poynter is visual editor of the Daily Yonder.

 

 

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