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You, Me And 65 Million Chickens: Shifting To Sustainable Food Production, Without The Guilt

Industrial-style farming should certainly be reimagined, but not with a guilt-ridden assault on the livelihoods of millions of farmers, herders and fishermen.

Picture of a chicken drinking water in a poultry farm.

A chicken drinks water in one of poultry farmer Corry Spitters' barns in Canada.

Brigitte LG Baptiste


BOGOTÁ — The bones of 65 million chickens eaten every year will leave a mark on the planet, with scientists and diggers citing them one day as evidence of our existence, alongside radioactivity and microplastics. That was the conclusion of a study from the University of Leicester in England, on the ecology of a planet dominated by human settlements.

Chickens, boiled, roasted and shredded, represent perfectly what we are doing to the planet, in material and symbolic terms. Mass violence isn't the preserve of terrorists, to be sure.

Over 5,000 years, this essentially flightless bird, originally from India, according to the Audubon Society, has become the main source of animal protein for people across the world. With their legs tied, caged or sitting in baskets, these birds eventually made their way to the most remote Amazon settlements and to our country's highlands.

In our homes, there was always room for a chicken or two, even if, unlike our dogs, there was little emotional attachment on either side. A chicken is just a chicken — if it isn't an endearing, colorful ornament at a kids' party, that is.

Revising our footprint 

We feed and stuff them, and annihilate them en masse for a hearty meal. Think of the street-side rotisseries roasting hundreds of chickens every day. These altars of death are testimony to the way we have simplified all fauna and flora to suit our needs.

All we want is a simple ménagerie of useful animals like cows and pigs, horses and ducks, or fleshy fish like tilapia. Why not? These "collaborative," altered animals would disappear in a new, neurotic worldview that refuses to contemplate the naturalness of death and the world's ecological and adaptive cycles.

Our abilities today to revise our footprint will help us face the next stage of civilization.

If ever there were a great, "compassionate transition" in which we stop exploiting other sentient beings, dozens of societies living off hunting, fishing and herding, would disappear.

Today, some three billion people depend on fishing and aquaculture, while another 500 million people in traditional economies live off herding and need their animals for such basics as dairies, wool or transport. This isn't necessarily torture as some animal defenders insist. There is a problem of perception, when you live in a city and think keeping a dog in a flat is kindness, not to mention putting bees to work for honey.

Photos of baby chicks in a boiler house

Baby chicks in boiler house

Edwin Remsberg/VW Pic/Zuma

Toward sustainable exploitation 

The triumph of human adaptability on the planet has certainly relied on practices that are questionable, and should be debated. But our abilities today to revise our footprint, reflect on our actions and put our accrued resources to good use, will help us face the next stage of civilization.

And that may or may not entail further millions of boned and feathered chickens. Our progression toward a sustainable exploitation of the world cannot, in any case, be rooted in guilt or nostalgia, and must rely on knowledge and innovation. We've had a couple of thousands years of guilt over our "original sin," so let's not replace it with another, dismal storyline, just to become better people.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

After Abbas: Here Are The Three Frontrunners To Be The Next Palestinian Leader

Israel and the West have often asked: Where is the Palestinian Mandela? The divided regimes between Gaza and the West Bank continues to make it difficult to imagine the future Palestinian leader. Still, these three names are worth considering.

Photo of Mahmoud Abbas speaking into microphone

Abbas is 88, and has been the leading Palestinian political figure since 2005

Thaer Ganaim/APA Images via ZUMA
Elias Kassem

Updated Dec. 5, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.

Israel has set two goals for its Gaza war: destroying Hamas and releasing hostages.

But it has no answer to, nor is even asking the question: What comes next?

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the return of the current Palestinian Authority to govern post-war Gaza. That stance seems opposed to the U.S. Administration’s call to revitalize the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assume power in the coastal enclave.

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But neither Israel nor the U.S. put a detailed plan for a governing body in post-war Gaza, let alone offering a vision for a bonafide Palestinian state that would also encompass the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers much of the occupied West Bank, was created in1994 as part of the Oslo Accords peace agreement. It’s now led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2005. Over the past few years, the question of who would succeed Abbas, now 88 years old, has largely dominated internal Palestinian politics.

But that question has gained new urgency — and was fundamentally altered — with the war in Gaza.

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