On her TV show today, Ellen Degeneres, who is frequently mentioned as an example of a celebrity vegan, had a conversation with actress Ellen Pompeo about Pompeo’s backyard chickens, exchanging all manner of trivializing light banter. But the real humdinger comes when Ellen mentiones that “we” (presumably Ellen and her wife Portia de Rossi) “have neighbors that have chickens, we get our eggs from those chickens, cause they’re happy, they’re really happy chickens”:
And maybe those particular chickens are happy. And if they are, good for them. I hope that in addition to being protected from hawks and coyotes as Ellen worries about, they are also well cared for into their old age, just as a family cat or dog would be.
Maybe these chickens don’t dwell on the fact that their brothers, uncles, nephews, and other male relatives were virtually all killed at birth for being “useless”. Maybe they don’t dwell on the fact that many of their mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, and other female relatives will die from lack of adequate health care, or due to dangerous housing or transport. Maybe they don’t mind that they were bred, raised, sold, and shipped as a commodity. And maybe they don’t care that humans collect and eat their equivalent to menstrual waste. (I’m just talking about rich peoples’ backyard chickens here; not even getting into the horrors that befall their factory-farmed cousins.)
And it seems a safe bet that Ellen’s neighbors’ chickens, happy or not, don’t know what veganism is. But Ellen should know better. If you don’t care how the word “vegan” is used, how it is defined, or what it connotes, then you can probably skip this post. (But then I also wonder why you’re reading a site called SuperVegan?) It’s entirely probable that Ellen is still, in balance, a positive force for lessening animal exploitation. But she’s emphatically not practicing veganism here, and doesn’t seem to be practicing critical thinking or informed common sense either. Her words here are dangerous: if viewers think she’s saying all this as a vegan, we’re running a very real risk of serious dilution of the meaning of the word.
I’m not quibbling edge-case semantics here. There are gray areas to veganism. There might even be gray areas to “vegan” people eating eggs, if, say they’re providing sanctuary for some rescued layers (though I still would never call that vegan). This doesn’t fall into any those gray areas. Is Ellen uncaring or just ignorant?
Ellen has attached herself to veganism and has acted as a spokesperson. In this role, I wish she’d either set a better example or step aside. A celebrity who eats animal products but works towards reforming factory farming can still be a force for good, and maybe that’s Ellen’s role. But an Ellen who doesn’t eat any eggs, and can explain why on national television, well, that would be even better!
I personally chose to go vegan because I educated myself on animal cruelty. Suddenly, I realized that what was on my plate were living things, with feelings. And I just couldn’t disconnect myself from it any longer. I read books like “Diet for a New America” and saw documentaries like “Earthlings” and “Meet your Meat,” and it became an easy choice for me.
Maybe she just needs some more reading material, to realize that “happy” chickens almost always come from unhappy backgrounds, and that advocating for backyard chicken-keeping on TV is advocating for suffering, exploitation, and murder, even if it’s not of those particular birds.