Guest column by Natalie Blanton, Sociology
My name is Natalie, and I am a first year PhD student in the Sociology department primarily studying gender and environmental justice. I am morally, ethically, and academically drawn to animal rights and welfare because of the critical alignment with the environmental and ecofeminist movements. I want to tell you a bit about my experience with chickens because next week members of the University of Utah will have the chance to see life through the eyes of a chicken in “I, Chicken,” a traveling virtual-reality experience produced by Peta2.
I became vegan through an avenue that most do not: Poultry. Having the opportunity to volunteer at the wonderful space that is Ching Farm Rescue and Sanctuary in Riverton, I found myself drawn to the species seemingly forgotten by food justice issues. Living harmoniously among the menagerie of cows, pigs, sheep, and goats, were chickens—the often-overlooked fowl of animal agriculture.
It was the farm’s “Freedom Hens,” rescued by sanctuary owner Faith Ching from an egg factory farm in California, which changed the way I viewed chickens. These hens are just 25 of the millions crammed into tiny battery cages for their entire existence. Having lived a life of confinement, de-beaking, not able to spread their wings, perch, interact, or socialize with other chickens, the hens were unsure of the never-before experienced sunshine, space, and life opportunities afforded to them after being brought to the sanctuary.
I reached out to Faith, inquiring on the status of the rescued hens. She says the ladies are “an amazing thing to behold” as they go from living in cramped cages to moving freely as individuals. The hens “no longer fear humans, but now run toward them to engage,“ she says. These hens completely changed the way I (consciously choose not to) consume, think about, and even interact with chickens.
On September 15 and 16 from 10 am to 3 pm, the University of Utah Service Coalition welcomes “I, Chicken,” a virtual-reality technology that turns users into a factory farm chicken. This free event will be hosted in the East Ballroom of the Union.
Using groundbreaking technology and a wireless headset, the three-minute experience allows students to move freely through the virtual world, walking around and exploring. Using eight motion-capture cameras, body sensors, and surround sound headphones, students are able to experience life as an animal—even looking at themselves in the mirror as chickens—before being plucked up and taken to slaughter. The whole experience is emotional, though not violent or gory.
The hope of the experience, and the reason for bringing it to the University, is to increase empathy for chickens in every person who takes the few minutes to feel what it is like to be a small bird. This is similar to the empathy experiment that allowed participants to swap genders. Studies show that this kind of interactive experience is a persuasive way to shift the way people view animals.
What: Peta2’s “I, Chicken”
Where: University of Utah Union, East Ballroom
When: Monday, Sept. 15 and Tuesday, Sept. 16 from 10 am to 3 pm