Animal Rights Club gives students bird’s-eye view of life as a chicken

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By Song My Hoang

The Animal Rights Club brought peta2’s (PETA’s youth division) virtual reality chicken project to the Union campus.

PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world and it aims to focus its attention on animal cruelty in factory farms, the clothing trade, laboratories, and the entertainment industry.

“The organization works through public education, cruelty investigation, research, animal rescue, leglislation, special events, celebrity involvement and protest campaigns.”

The Animal Welfare Virtual Reality Exhibit was held in the Reamer Campus Center Pit on Monday, Oct. 6, and Tuesday, Oct. 7.

The I, Chicken project uses innovative technology to educate students about life as a chicken. According to peta2, “I, Chicken uses cutting-edge wireless VR goggles, motion capture cameras and a powerful computer — the same tools that the military uses to train pilots, treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and equip medical staff with lifesaving skills — and was made possible by a grant from Simpsons co-creator and noted philanthropist Sam Simon.”

“Simon and peta2 — whose motto reads, in part, that ‘animals are not ours to eat’ aim to instill empathy for the 26 million chickens who are slaughtered for food every day in the U.S. alone. These birds’ throats are cut, and millions of still-conscious birds are scalded to death in defeathering tanks.”

Peta2 consulted leading VR psychologists for guidance in “immersing participants in a world where they can flap their wings, communicate with other chickens, take dust baths, and engage in other natural chicken behavior.”

Students began their journey as a chicken on a farmhouse with their chicken best friend. They were able to socialize with other chickens and move freely on the farm.

Then, a human grabs the chickens from their peaceful home and confines them to the back of a truck, which is heading to the slaughterhouse. Once at the slaughterhouse, the chickens remain in a cage and see their fellow chicken friends being processed as meat on a conveyer belt.

The three-minute virtual reality project allowed students to gain a first-hand experience on the reality of being a chicken. It aimed to help students develop compassion for chickens and eradicate the misconception that these animals are solely producers of meat and eggs. Chickens can also be individuals with interests, wants, and needs.

The event intended to raise awareness about the dark reality of the chicken industry.  Peta2 explained, “Chickens are inquisitive and interesting animals with distinct personalities, keen communication skills, and complex social structures.”

According to PETA, on factory farms, chickens are crammed into confined spaces; this overcrowding leads to immense filth and disease.  Chickens spend their lives in windowless sheds that typically hold as many as 40,000 birds each.

As a consequence, chickens are forced to breathe ammonia and particulate matter from feces and feathers. Many chickens suffer from chronic respiratory disease, weakened immune systems, bronchitis, and ammonia burn.

In crowded groups, chickens become frustrated and relentlessly peck at each other, may lead to injury and death.

Chickens are also genetically bred to grow to an unnatural size. This accelerated weight gain often causes chickens to become crippled under their own weight.

Over the next year, peta2 will bring its I, Chicken experience to more than a hundred college campuses around the U.S. Students were interviewed after their virtual reality experience.

Heather Mendiola ’15 commented, “After the virtual experience, it’s really sad to experience how clustered those cages are, but I still support my decision in eating meat from local farms where I meet the farmer and know the animal was killed in a humane fashion.”

Taiana Ospina ’15 said that she felt uncomfortable towards the end when she was confined in a cage. “I’ve always been aware of this issue, but I can’t say that I will stop eating eggs. It is easy to hide the real issue if you are not constantly exposed to it,” she elaborated.

“I felt sad after the experience. You don’t realize how exactly chickens are processed for your food. I might have to rethink my eating options,” stated Ruwimbo Makoni ’15.

Co-presidents Yaqi Gao ’15 and Will Burns ’15 helped make the Animal Rights Club reach an official club status this year.

Gao commented, “We held this animal welfare virtual reality exhibit with the aim of educating the campus about animal cruelty. We hope that the I, Chicken experience will reveal the dark reality of how animals are treated.”

“Chickens are just like any other animals and humans. All they want to do is live in peace with their family. Chickens are not meat-producing machines. They are individuals with different emotions and personalities,” she continued.

Gao was inspired to support the animal welfare cause after reading Patrick Singer’s Animal Liberation. She has been volunteering and attending protests and demonstrations with PETA as well as other animal liberation groups.

Gao is proud to wear her hoodie, which features a cartoon chick with a blurb that says: “I’m not a nugget.” She is also a vegetarian. She asserts, “Also, the message of the animal welfare exhibition is not to think of animal as food, but rather to promote a vegetarian and harmonic lifestyle.”

The Animal Rights club will be holding a dinner and discussion with the president of Rottie Empire Rescue Tina Hudson, a local attorney focusing on animal rights issue Monica Miranda, and a behavior and trainer of the Rottie Empire Rescue.  The club will also have a movie screening of Cowspiricy: The Sustainability Secret, a movie about the food industry.

Peta2 asks Union students to reflect on the question: “If Union students knew what it felt like to be a chicken in a slaughterhouse, would they still choose a chicken sandwich at the dining hall?”

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