Sonia Faruqi has investigated animal farms around the world.
In an exclusive, edited excerpt from her first book, “Project Animal Farm,” she describes what happened when she, Brick, and Will, the owners of the farm she was living on, came across a chicken that had escaped from its cage.
It was rancid and repulsive with thousands of cages arranged in three endless columns.
Each cage was the size of a microwave but confined four or five hens, summing up to 13,000 hens in the factory.
Cages were the epitome of cold, steely efficiency. Hens drank water from a dripper at the back of their cage, and they ate yellow-brown pellets off a feed belt at the outside front of their cage.
They lived underneath a manure belt that sagged under the waste of the hens above, and they stood on a wire floor that was slanted so their eggs would roll automatically onto the egg belt running parallel to the feed belt outside their cage.
Each cage was a small, self-sufficient, automated black box.
And yet there were six hens far down one aisle of cages, walking around.
Will strode in the direction of the fugitive hens. He opened the door to the room’s cooler, saying, “Chickens always go into the cooler,” and captured them.
Clutching them three to a hand, upside-down by their legs, he brought them back to the cages.
When just one hen remained in his hands, he turned around to face me. “Since you helped me catch them,” he said, “you can cage this one.”
During the hen hunt, I’d acted as a useless accomplice. If I took the hen, I would change from abettor to abuser.
One part of me ordered, “Don’t cage the hen,” for confining the hen to a cage would be like twisting or tearing off her legs — she would never walk again.
The other part of me countered, “Cage the hen,” for a rejection of Will’s effusive offer would be a slap to Brick and Will’s faces. (I was living with them in their house.)
“What’s going on?” Will asked me. “What are you waiting for? It won’t bite, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”
“I’m just trying to decide which cage to put the hen in,” I said.
My fingers closed around the hen’s legs. So far, in all the time that I’d spent at my host family’s factory farm, I’d been surrounded by hens, but I hadn’t touched any of them.
The only point of human interaction with hens was with dead hens when their carcasses were extracted from cages.
In my hand, the hen felt like an extension of my own hand, and we were bonded in that moment of contact.
Unwilling to fling my hen into a cage by her legs, I turned her upright.
“Don’t!!” Brick hollered.
Before this moment, I hadn’t even noticed the hens’ wings, for they remained pinched to their sides in their cages. Now, I saw that a hen’s wingspan measured more than the width of the entire cage she shared with others.
The hen propelled herself into the air.
Brick launched into a creative string of curses. I acted apologetic, but felt ecstatic, for the hen was free (at least for now), and Brick still trusted me. The hen hunt was a handshake of friendship.
Excerpted from Sonia Faruqi’s “Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food” (Pegasus Books, July 2015). Copyright 2015. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
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