04 May 2010

An eco-narcissist speaks

My urban chicken blog post is the gift that keeps on giving. It's been busily collecting comments in the weeks since it since appeared and last night a self-proclaimed eco-narcissist named Jerry tried to take me to task, point by point. Indeed.

Jerry, it's my blog and I can write about anything I bloody well please. But clearly, Jerry thinks I'm a heartless prick. Someday Jerry, we'll have a chat about hyperbole. In the meantime though, Jerry has a lot to say and I'm afraid that Jerry's important points would be missed if they remained buried at the end of a three-week-old blog post. He seems to need an audience so I'm going to give it to him.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Jerry the eco-narcissist. His words appear intact, I have changed nothing.


Paul, I (obviously) count myself amongst those ideological eco-narcissists that advocate urban poultry, and I feel compelled to respond to your rant against birds that (unless you have forsaken eggs and chicken from the grocery store are now both passively and actively abusing. Passively by supporting the agri-business practices of commercial egg farms, and actively with your comments here.
First as has been pointed out roosters are not required for eggs, and no one I know of is advocating for roosters in an urban setting. Bringing up roosters is just silly, so let;s talk about HENS.
For starters I have a licensed flock of 5 hens from which we average 4 eggs per day. "Do we need eggs?" is now a joke when we pass them in the grocery store. And as to quality Mother Earth News (I know, eco-narcissists, right?) commissioned a study and found that pastured eggs like the ones from my back yard contain more Omega-3s and other good stuff, and less cholesterol and other bad stuff. And they do taste better. The ones from the grocery store? They taste like the grocery store. If you've ever grown a tomato and bought one in the store and tasted the difference you know what I am talking about.

Loud? Compared to a dog barking all night, I'll take some daytime clucking any day. Besides, they do sleep at night, and so do I.

Smelly? If hens, their coop or run smell bad it is from serious neglect. A modicum of effort (1 minute/day) can keep that under control. Again easier to clean up after than a dog. I NEVER have to walk around the neighborhood with a little bag of chicken poop!

KFC? You mean Kentucky Fried Cruelty? If you had any idea how THOSE chickens lived you would think twice about allowing that in your city.

Salmonella? Again you are confusing us with those nasty factory farms. The conditions of even the most casual coop are far too clean to allow salmonella or the more serious threat of e.Coli0157 to be an issue. Thank you for not mentioning bird flu. That would have been really silly!

As to you and your brother being attacked by chickens as children I will only say that if I were repeatedly outsmarted by a bunch of birds with brains the size of peas I would not be bragging about it. You had food. They wanted food. You couldn't figure that out?

As to your photo of the butchering table, I assume that is there for shock value. I am one of the few hen keepers who keeps them strictly as a source of protein. When they have lived their productive life and stop laying all of my girls will end up in the stew pot. Yes, that is a happy day. When we had Shaniqua and dumplings we celebrated the fact that she lived a good life, died a painless death, and provided for our family with her eggs, poop and her very flesh. Yes, I still eat chicken from the store too, but I won't eat battery birds because THAT is cruel.

As to my experience I've been keeping chickens in an urban, not suburban, setting for 5 years and my friends are all getting their own when and where they can. Yes there is a learning curve and mistakes were made. But I still think that keeping the farm out of the suburbs is the wrong direction. How about keeping the suburbs out of the farms? 

And really, if you are going to single out chickens (which is a funny thing to do) tell me how they are better than dogs?
My chickens don't threaten dogs, but dogs can threaten my hens (if they get in the yard)
Hen poop becomes organic fertilizer for those aforementioned tomatoes. Dog poop gets left all over the place where I step in it, it pollutes our rivers, and smells like, umm, poo.
My hens never attack anyone smarter than they are. (Nothing personal meant by that :-) I can't say that about the pit bulls around here.


And there you have it, the eco-narcissist speaks. I don't know about you guys, but I'm hankering for a big 'ol bucket of KFC.


  1. Jerry, you don't need to take this so personally. Just like any other pet, there are going to be good and bad owners. You sound like the former of the two. Unfortunately, I don't know too many urbanites who have the wherewithall to handle chickens, even though they would probably disagree with that. They think it's quaint and novel so they get a flock and, just like the hedgehog and chinchilla craze, they end up abused and in animal shelters by the dozen. Chickens are not for everyone, but pushers of this trend want everyone to think they are. That's hogwash.
    If anyone should be offended by this, it's me. I love chickens, but I appreciate the fact that Paul is someone who can recognize a silly trend when he sees it and manage to dissolve the sugar coating on it with his acid humor.

  2. "Again easier to clean up after than a dog."

    Really? Have you ever worked on a chicken farm? Chickens poop really small poops, all damn day, everywhere. Dogs poop 1-2 times and usually in a pre-determined area.

    All that aside, I really just take extreme offense at being compared to a chicken in any way.

  3. The chicken craze has to stop somewhere. I want to talk about dogs though, since that is a mainstream sort of choice. A lot of my neighbors have a dog. Dogs are cute. Having a pet can be a rewarding experience. Why don't I have a dog then? Because I am realistic. I do not want to come straight home after work every day because someone needs to take that dog out, wake up earlier than I please to take that dog out, in every weather, up and down the stairs any time that dog needs to go out, and picking up a steaming pile with nothing but a grocery bag between my hand and it sets off my gag reflex. I can't set too long on how cute they are and that they will love me and bark their head off and shed all over my apartment... I mean, love me when I need it and when I don't. Cute, but also a lot more work than I've decided I want to do.

    That is why people need to know what Paul and others say about chickens. How can you even look at poultry and not think about the reality of keeping chickens? Sure there are many rewards. If you are laughing about your joke, "do we need eggs?" LOL, when you are in the grocery store, I wonder what you are doing in a grocery store anyway, why, if keeping chickens is so important to you, that you shop in a place where the eggs taste all generic. Yes, you sound holier-than-thou, Jerry, but you haven't gone the whole nine. You need to live off the grid, I suppose your computer is wind-powered, it sounds a lot like it is a hot wind.

    There are plenty of reasons people need to consider not getting chickens and measure that against good reasons someone might want to be among those who do keep chickens - don't you think that is sensible? Some people might really like it, but there's no reason to rush into something without examining your own level of commitment and love for chickens. I think similarly, some people get a dog without thinking, and then they are stuck with it, while some people are pleased with their choice and even the work involved along with the benefits. Do you think it's better to think it through on both sides of the ledger than to be stuck with chickens it turns out are not the right thing for a given individual? Would you rather recommend chickens too emphatically and saddle people with living creatures who require attention they did not expect to give? Do not kid people that it is not smelly or at least a little hard work, since that is subjective. Encourage people to do the right thing for themselves, really explore this idea before they commit to something that has a lot of unexpected and perhaps unpleasant aspects.

    Right now, you are like a human breeder actually. Having kids can be the most rewarding for some people, but in my opinion, not enough people really estimate how difficult it's going to be or consider what they might rather do without before it's too late, and people who choose a childfree life are bullied about making their own decisions with all the information in front of them, called selfish. You really don't mean to sound like my mother, only with chickens, do you?

  4. Well- Jerry does make solid points that I agree with. I do have chickens, and a rooster- but I live in the country and there are three chicken flocks, all with roosters within 2 miles of my house.

    Paul- I do agree with you, though. Chickens are hard work- easier than cows or horses or pigs, but still hard work. They are not for everyone, and I am not in favor of any kind of fad that involves an animal.

    But, geez, don't beat up on Jerry, and don't try to make fun of him. If that was your plan- not cool. Stick to poking fun at famous people. We all enjoy that.

  5. This is fun! Replace Chicken baby chicken! with Drill baby drill! and you have the opposite sides of the same coin.

  6. I'm not making fun of him, I'm letting him hoist himself with his own petard.

  7. oh. my. god. wow.

    I am going to just sit back and wait for the Facebook Urban Chicken cause page and the inevitable Hitler references before I weigh in on this one.


  8. I guess there is an upside to being so damn busy; I was unaware that there was an urban chicken craze going on! Well, slap my hide!

    I guess I am a real product of the times because it sounds sort of "ew yuck" to go out and make an omelet from eggs I just took out from under Shaniqua! I think that would make me go back to my vegetarian ways! Oh jaysus! My grandmother is turning over in her grave I am sure!

    Seriously though I think Jerry is just passionate about what he believes and of all people, I can respect that!! And Paul, well, is just our funny irreverent Paul!

  9. Paul, no fair throwing in a Shakespeare reference. Of course, I do enjoy a bit of Hamlet with my eggs :-)

  10. Bring on the Hitler references and Rufus just scored a bunch of points for being one very well-read dog.

  11. Chicken and Residential Design!

  12. I don't think I ever got the full idea from Paul that nobody should ever have chickens the way I'm getting from Jerry that everyone should get chickens. You have to think of the bad stuff too and decide if you are eager to live with it to gain the obvious benefits. Fads are fads because they look more appealing than they are and most people are indeed separated culturally from the business of agriculture. Before they get too excited, they should figure out whether they want it to be right in their backyard as well as the impact on their neighbors. Jerry said he would rather listen to chickens than dogs, but that is not the attitude of a thoughtful neighbor, who thinks any neighbors who wouldn't rather listen to chickens is being a killjoy. If you live in the city, don't be such a self-righteous asshole.

    Think: this is not like getting into the knitting fad or the scrapbooking fad, where the materials can be stored in the closet when you realize you don't feel like crafting. It's easy to be enthusiastic about something everyone else is doing and set up a little workshop that in a week or two you decide is a dreadful or messy chore (or you might like it - good for you); don't bring animals into your life unless you really, truly want them. Isn't that what any decent parent tells a child who asks for a dog? It's a lot of work, nobody is doing anyone a favor if they say it's easy, fun, rewarding, failing logic by comparing it to pit bulls, etc. If Jerry is stepping in dog shit, that ought to give him the idea that some people are too irresponsible to keep up with their animals, right? Chicken havers are different than dog havers all of a sudden?

  13. Sorry for all the ranting. This chicken topic has just set me off. Jerry's choices are right for Jerry, but there is nothing to be spontaneous or idealistic for anyone to go out and acquire chickens or any animal. What can chickens do for you? The eggs taste better... is that a good enough reason? They're not as hard to take care of as a dog... if that's even true, it's subjective. I don't hear any other good arguments in favor of chickens other than to hop on the bandwagon.

  14. urban poultry
    urban poultry
    urban poultry

    These 2 words now join some of my other favorites that just don't belong in the same sentence -
    faux - and - fur
    diet - and - cake or pie or cookie


    (I've been out of town and sure have missed you and my other regular read blogs!)

  15. shouldn't that be egg-o narcissist?

  16. Leggo my eggo-narcissist!

    Katerina: You are welcome to rant any time. So for that matter is Jerry the eco-narcissist.

    Sharon: Welcome back. Urban poultry or urban poltroons?

    Adrienne: Now that's catchy!

  17. Nothing like robust, health and passionate debate about...chickens?

  18. Oh good god, will this ever end? Remaining anon so my email in-box is left alone this time around.

  19. Paul,
    I am honored and humbled to be elevated to the status of guest blogger on your site. It is a pleasure meeting you and the opportunity to engage in reasoned, rational, adult discourse is always welcome.
    It is funny (to me) that I did not even bookmark your site so I had to search blogs to find it to see if I might have crossed any boundaries with my comments. Other than impugning your intelligence, which I hope you took as the attempt at humor it was intended, I think I am comfortable with my eco-narcissist self.(Keywords: urban chickens rooster salmonella. Yours was the top result. Congratulations for combining these concepts in new ways.)

    It might be helpful if you provided a link to the original post so that the context is clear to any one who might be coming in at the tail end of this discussion. (Thanks in advance)

    So please allow me the continued courtesy of responding to the responses to my response. (And since I can't even imagine responding to the responses to my response to the responses to my response, just send and e-mail to I.Hate.Chickens@knowinghappiness.com. I'll try to make my responses available on my blog, knowinghappiness.net.

    First of all, I never said anyone else should have hens. I merely wanted to defend my ownership, or more accurately stewardship. I would no more wish hens on a negligent owner than I would advocate for anyone to have children, or anything else. Do I enjoy my flock? Yes. Is being a parent the most rewarding thing I have ever done? Absolutely. Are there people out there unfit and/or unwilling to be the custodians of other living creatures? Since you and your readers are at least unwilling, the answer is again, yes. To each their own. And I guess that is the big difference between you and me. I "advocate" personal choices that support one's values and beliefs. If I am not hurting anyone (which I do not believe I am) what is wrong with that? If I remember my history correctly the USA was started by a bunch of wacky fundamentalists just looking for a place where they could be free to be wacky fundamentalists without The Man telling them what to do. And when they got here they were introduced to the indigenous poultry by the indigenous peoples, a fact that many people remember each Thanksgiving, myself amongst them. Yes I am a member of PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals.

    So when anyone comes along and tells me that they know better than I do how I should live my life I will take it personally, thank you Melody. But Melody, as much as I hate the fact that irresponsible pet owners allow their animals to reproduce in uncontrolled numbers to become a tax payer burden and meet a premature death, I still don't understand how animals as tasty as chickens could wind up in a shelter. I'll tell you what; if you come across any chickens that are destined for my local shelter I will personally give them a dignified service. You can even come to the dinner in their honor. I hope you like chicken and dumplings.

    Rufus, I know you are a dog, but remember we are talking about minimizing the need for chicken farms. Read the post/response again. Take a look at my hen house and compare it to the battery chicken operations out there. Even a dog could see that this is a better deal.

  20. atrina, I am glad you know what kind of animal relationships work for you. You are the type of person I would recommend limit their chicken ownership to the boneless/skinless/cellophane wrapped breeds. And yes, I do shop in a grocery store. I have 1/10 of an acre in the city so I really cannot raise all of my own food. I would love to be off the grid, and am working toward that goal. In the meantime I make decisions and compromises that work for me. I hate tomatoes that taste like Styrofoam, so I grow all of my own and freeze and dry them so I always have the good ones. I am not holier than anybody. I am blessed. Blessed with the rain and the sun and soil and the experience it takes to have such wonderful treats as those tomatoes and eggs. I wish everyone was so blessed, but only if they want it.
    And yes, there are lots of reasons to not have chickens, or a garden, or a car, or... Likewise there are many reasons for the opposite stance. To summarize just a few:
    * Food security
    * Food quality
    * Fossil fuel dependence
    * Animal rights
    * Entertainment
    * Organic fertilizer

    A wise man (can't remember who) once said, "Consider any big truth. Now consider its opposite. It too is true." This is what we call paradox. This is what makes the world so beautiful, when there is room for all the truths, not just mine. That said, I do advocate for making informed decisions. Come see how my hens live. See what is involved. See if it is right for you. If not at least you know a truth, not the illusions perpetrated by the opposing truth.
    And I never said anyone other than ME should have chickens, just that we ought to be allowed to if we wanted to. And calling names is really not very constructive is it?

    Designade, Paul can poke as much fun at me as he wants. I know I am a fruit cake. But to make ad hominem attacks on my girls, that is stooping too low. You know they are only about a foot tall, right?

    Adrienne, were you looking for THIS Facebook page? facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/urban.chickens? We are out there. There really are a bunch of us who love our urban chickens. (Not in that way you perverts!) Backyard Poultry was one of the fastest growing magazines recently. Maybe it is a popular bandwagon, but it seems to be headed to the place a bunch of us want to go. Again though, if you do not want on please stay off.

    Details and Design, you make a good point. If we stop to think about where our food or transportation or clothing comes from it can make it very hard to continue to in our old ways. Ignorance may be bliss, but I get stuck with informed and conflicted.

  21. So yes, I will continue to face ignorance and intolerance. I will occasionally step in to call it when I see it, but I refuse to fight for love. It is sort of like screwing for virginity.

    You can live your life any way that works for you. I may not agree with your opinion, but I will continue to defend your right to have it. In return I ask only that I be allowed the same courtesy. My life and decisions are working very well for me, thank you. To say that somebody ought to stop me and those like me because we are different and do not share your values is where you cross my fence. Can you think of any other examples from history where that has not worked out so well?

    Paul, is it accurate to sum up your original intent to say that you do not understand the appeal of urban hen keeping? If so a lack of understanding is easily conquered. Is it accurate to say that you do not share this opinion? Sweet, more of it for me. If I had to share my opinions I might not be opinionated any more. Then where would I be? But in your original post you mentiened that you did not understand it, but knew it was "flawed for a bunch of reasons." You also said you were "willing to take a look" so I spent the time to contribute.

    Have hens in the city of you want. Don’t have them if you don’t want them. But if you are going to decide, especially if you are going to try to decide for me, take the time to make it an informed decision. Mark Twain said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn no other way.” I’ve carried this cat by the tail. I have learned how to avoid the smelly messes, the predators, and the illnesses. I know how to carry that cat now. Do you mind if we go on our way?

    Thank you again for the honor of guest blogging on a topic of such interest to me. Thank you all for reading my thoughts. Urban chickens is just one way that we can explore who we are, how we live in this world, and how we treat each other and the planet.

    I wish each of you your greatest happiness as you define it. My happiness is detailed at knowinghappiness.net if you care.

  22. Jerry,

    You are welcome to come back and hang with the misfits and malcontents who hang here any time. I mean that with the utmost affection (the misfits and malcontents line) and I mean that as a genuine invitation. Anybody is welcome, nay, encouraged to leave whatever comment he sees fit. And Jerry, you are an absolute traffic magnet. Thanks!

  23. So, time to expand your practice to include chicken coops? If you do I'd love to have you as MY guest.

  24. I don't think so. I would be just as horrified and indignant if it were a white chicken.

  25. Jerry, seriously! They do end up in animal shelters. Ours here in Lancaster PA gets them periodically and I know they do in NYC too.

  26. I am raising 6 chicks and will soon have plenty of fresh eggs for my family and neighbors to enjoy. My chickens are quiet, inexpensive and utterly charming. Even my neighbor, who keeps only a boa constrictor as a pet, thinks they are cute.
    Of course, not every one should have a chicken, just as not everyone should have a boa (or a dog, or a parrot, etc.) But there are many misconceptions about chickens such as they are smelly, loud and harbor disease that are simply not true.

  27. I'm glad you found a hobby that makes you happy. Really I am. But it is true that chickens are smelly, they are loud and they do in fact harbor disease.

  28. I reckon Laura should be worried when a boa-constrictor owner thinks her fowls are "cute". Keep counting them.

    Yes, chickens can harbour disease, but so can any pet animal. A few backyard birds ought not to be smelly unless you are standing on something, or the owner is neglecting their care. And only roosters are noisy (for this reason my council won't allow roosters, but you are allowed a flock of hens if you can keep them 13m from your house.)

  29. Exactly, I was just stating a fact. Claiming that chickens don't harbor disease is as misinformed an idea as "organic foods have no chemicals in them."

  30. Perhaps I'm spoiled because I live a short drive away from Polyface Farms and my area is big on buying local (to counter communities just an hour away that revolve around a Tysons plant).

    Do people feel that the ONLY way they can get good eggs, ones that didn't come from a factory farm, is by raising chickens themselves? Twice a week, I can go to a parking lot in my little city and pick up some nice, local eggs from small farmer. If I join a CSA, I can add on an "egg share".

    Growing up in the Jersey suburbs of NYC, we went to a store run by a small dairy for milk, eggs, and butter. When I was in Boston, I just had to go up the street one afternoon each week to get my local goods at the farmer's market.

    I have to imagine if I have had access to fresh, local eggs in three different environments, many people have access to them in their towns/cities.

  31. Jeannine: Thanks for your comments this morning. I suspect that there's more going on here than simple access to fresh eggs. When I see the many, readily-available pre-made chicken coops on the market that are too small for actual chickens and instead resemble backyard jungle gyms I have to wonder. The current fad for urban chicken raising smells to me like yet another poorly conceived and irrational attempt to save the earth. This is not to say that everybody who raises chickens in his or her yard is a soft-headed granola eater. But when Apartment Therapy and Tree Hugger get in on the act and when the best reason they can put forth to endorse such a thing is that chickens are cute I have to wonder.

  32. Agreed. In my little city, there is some one-upmanship when it comes to being a localvore. The urban chicken keepers may feel some sort of superiority over those with CSA shares or those who go to the farmer's market or the local co-op each week.

    Five years ago, saying you got your eggs from Dave Matthews' CSA and your produce at the farmer's market was currency.

    Today, buying local is so easy around here that perhaps some need a way to feel a bit superior...and so they plant a garden in the front yard (for all the see) and put up a chicken coop in the back (for all the hear).

  33. Front yard gardening has arrived on St. Pete's sunny shores too and it makes me laugh. What's really amusing to me is when people plant tomatoes down here at this time of year. In a tropical climate, tomatoes are a winter crop and when they're planted in December they do great. Planting them in May means that they will rot and wither as soon as rainy season kicks in about three weeks form now.

    I guess that doesn't matter when what's important is the pose.


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