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March 1, 2012 at 3:37 PMComments: 16 Faves: 1

The Future of Food, Part 1: Matrix Chickens?

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the NatuREport Blog Series

Every once in a while a news story comes along and leaves me at a complete and utter loss for words. But I think this is an important topic, so I’m going to try and get something coherent together.

Fans of The Matrix will no doubt remember how the humans are stored by the machines in order to harvest their energy – in a network of pods that looks like this:

So what does this have to do with food?

First, let me explain what I’m about to show you. This is architecture student Andre Ford’s solution to the horrific fate of broiler chickens (basically any chicken raised for meat). I won’t get into all the gory details, but this fate includes : being raised in crowded, dark rooms; being artificially fattened so they can’t stand up; and finally being killed at the ripe old age of 6-7 weeks, with many dipped in scalding water while fully conscious.

Feast your eyes on Ford’s solution to this problem:

Still not sure what you’re looking at? I’ll let him explain while I’m busy trying to stifle the scream rising in my throat:

"By removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken, its sensory perceptions are removed. It can be produced in a denser condition while remaining alive, and oblivious.

"The feet will also be removed so the body of the chicken can be packed together in a dense volume.

"Food, water and air are delivered via an arterial network and excreta is removed in the same manner. Around 1000 chickens will be packed into each 'leaf', which forms part of a moving, productive system."

In other words – he’s proposing that we deprive chickens of all of their senses, cut off their feet, and force them to live as vegetables (oh, if only). To stimulate muscle growth, they would be connected to electrodes – which, of course, they couldn’t feel.

I already have issues with eating an animal that I know was subjected to inhumane conditions that gave it a horrible life. Is it supposed to make me feel better that these chickens essentially have no life at all?

In case you couldn’t tell, I am quite seriously disturbed by this proposal. I suppose it helps assuage worries of inflicting pain on animals, to an extent. But the image of thousands of braindead chickens strung up in a silent, creepy web in the dark (no need to waste electricity with lights if they can’t sense it anyway)…well, it’s almost definitely going to give me nightmares.

I think you already know how I feel about the topic, but I encourage you to read what Ford has to say (in this interview) and share your opinion in the comments and check back for part 2 soon!

What do you think of Ford’s proposal? Is this an ingenious solution to a huge ethical problem, or does it create an even bigger ethical problem?


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  • :/

    I already knew how bad chicken farms were thanks to Food Inc. This takes it a so many steps further that I just don't even know what to say. Gross.

    If people want to eat chickens (like myself :) ) why can't the chickens live in peace and harmony on a local, organic farm being happy together..before they...well ya know. Why make them suffer like this or make them into freaky Frankenstein-like experiments? It's not natural and it's cruel.

  • p.s. Great blog, Laura! Really good topic to get people thinking...especially if this is the future! :/

  • I think this is a rather elegant and frankly, genius solution. Everyone who is up in arms about the current treatment of the delicious chicken wants them to run around blissfully on a farm until their INEVITABLE demise, neglecting to think about what they are truly asking for.

    The current system sucks, no doubt about it, but the pleasant solution is no solution at all, it only makes those who care about the animals feel better, it doesn't feed anyone, which is the point of the whole process.

    The suggestion that we have them grow up on a farm and run around getting naturally fat and then slaughtering them sounds a thousand times worse for the chicken than the Ford solution. You are saying that you want them to feel what it is to be treated well before we steal their life from them, so at least they would have tasted it before we stole it? You people are truly cruel. Kudos to Mr. Ford for at least trying to maintain our food infrastructure while coming up with a solution that is efficient.

    Also, we have been dragging lake and ocean bottoms for fish and other seafood delights for centuries, hooking them, flaying them, dragging them behind boats...where is the love for the fish? Or is it that the only time we get angry is when we are shown it by obviously unbiased, third party, documentaries?

  • E.M. - Jonathan Safran Foer dedicates an extensive amount of space in his book "Eating Animals" to the horrors of fishing - both farmed fishing and so-called "wild" fishing. Ever heard of by-catch? It's not pretty. I recommend you start with that book.

    Also - I'm a vegetarian, so of course I would suggest that we forgo the eating of animals at all. But I know that's not necessarily a popular solution for most people. I'm just uncomfortable with eating a being that would naturally have been sentient, so removing the animal's ability to have senses just doesn't sit well with me. (It still would have been alive and conscious at some point, after all.) But if you are comfortable with it, that's your business, and you can eat all the Matrix chickens you want. I don't claim that I can tell you what to do.

    As for the efficiency of this solution - a quote from an article I'm going to use in Part 2:
    "...To make 15 grams of edible meat, we have to feed that animal 100 grams of vegetable protein. Is that sustainable with a growing world population? You do the math."

  • Excerpt from "Eating Animals" re: bycatch -

    Perhaps the quintessential example of bullshit, bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident — except not really "by accident," since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods. Modern fishing tends to involve much technology and few fishers. This combination leads to massive catches with massive amounts of bycatch. Take shrimp, for example. The average shrimptrawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch.) Shrimp account for only 2 percent of global seafood by weight, but shrimp trawling accounts for 33 percent of global bycatch. We tend not to think about this because we tend not to know about it. What if there were labeling on our food letting us know how many animals were killed to bring our desired animal to our plate? So, with trawled shrimp from Indonesia, for example, the label might read: 26 pounds of other sea animals were killed and tossed back into the ocean for every 1 pound of this shrimp.

    Or take tuna. Among the other 145 species regularly killed — gratuitously — while killing tuna are: manta ray, devil ray, spotted skate, bignose shark, copper shark, Galapagos shark, sandbar shark, night shark, sand tiger shark, (great) white shark, hammerhead shark, spurdog fish, Cuban dogfish, bigeye thresher, mako, blue shark, wahoo, sailfish, bonito, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, longbill spearfi sh, white marlin, swordfish, lancet fish, grey triggerfish, needlefish, pomfret, blue runner,black ruff, dolphin fish, bigeye cigarfish, porcupine fish, rainbow runner, anchovy, grouper, flying fish, cod, common sea horse, Bermuda chub, opah, escolar, leerfish, tripletail, goosefish, monkfish, sunfish, Murray eel, pilotfish, black gemfish, stone bass, bluefish, cassava fish, red drum, greater amberjack, yellowtail, common sea bream, barracuda, puffer fish, loggerhead turtle, green turtle, leatherback turtle, hawksbill turtle, Kemp's ridley turtle, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, Audouin's gull, Balearic shearwater, black-browed albatross, great black-backed gull, great shearwater, great-winged petrel, grey petrel, herring gull, laughing gull, northern royal albatross, shy albatross, sooty shearwater, southern fulmar, Yelkouan shearwater, yellow-legged gull, minke whale, sei whale, fin whale, common dolphin, northern right whale, pilot whale, humpback whale, beaked whale, killer whale, harbor porpoise, sperm whale, striped dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, and goose-beaked whale.

    Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across."

  • I see your point E.M. If meat and any food for that matter was only served from local farms where animals run around free and happy (which I admit, is why I love farms like that. I want them to be free and happy and have a nice life before we decide to eat them), then to feed everyone on this would probably be extremely difficult if not impossible. So I see why they have the farms where they grow chickens for mass production. Totally understand that.

    But for me, I like having the choice between mass produced or locally grown. I know not everyone has the luxury of that choice. And I will admit, in Michigan it is VERY hard to find affordable, local meat. And places that do offer meat shares...well there is a long waiting list. But you don't have to have a share, you can go to that farm and buy meat from them like you'd buy at's just more expensive.

    In my opinion, it all comes down to beliefs, choice, and of course how people want to spend the money they earn. If someone wants to buy a chicken from a local farm because it makes them feel better about where their meat is coming from (aka me :) ), then they can go ahead and do that if they like.

  • Chickens require very little space to raise reasonably happy and healthy. More people could just raise their own, but that puts the individual way too close to the savagery of killing and cleaning their own meat. Instead, we're completely detached from what we're actually eating.

  • "Food choices are determined by many factors, but reason (even consciousness) is not generally high on the list."

    I must admit, Foer is pretty good (and a Kafka lover, props for that as well). Creating a consistent parallel between our feelings for cuddly pets and the animals that get slaughtered on a daily basis is genius, no doubt about it. It changes nothing.

    We pine and cry for the animals because they are "sentient" species caught in the web of a hungry animal higher up on the food chain, all the while chewing on our organic greens, thumbing our noses at the hopeless neanderthal meat eaters. Little do we think about the fertilizers being used to grow all the veggies that we now covet. These fertilizers that are slowly destroying the ground upon which our precious greens grow. These fertilizers that actually HAVE to be applied just to get the ground to grow anything anymore.

    As for the fishing, of course the means we use are barbaric, that wasn't the point. The point was that most people don't even begin to get up in arms about anything anymore until they are manipulated by someone else.

    We humans are wretchedly wicked creatures, denying our most basic instinct to gain a higher moral ground. If you take into account the number of mouths that are fed by large corporations, just in the US alone and then look at the means upon which we facilitate that feeding, the picture that becomes clear isn't pretty, no doubt about that. In the beginning, the process was obviously simple, safe, and respectful to all species involved. As the population grew, how was it that these businesses were supposed to feed all those relying upon them? With more people moving away from self-sufficient farming and moving to the city to work where the "money" was, the need for these corporations to up their production increased exponentially. So, like any other species, they did what they needed to, they created easier and more efficient ways to help the species survive.

    I don't condone the methods upon which our food is produced, nor do I agree with it, but both sides are at fault. You can't simply point the finger at those who own the slaughterhouses and they can't simply state that they make it because we continue to buy it. The issue lies not with either philosophy, but with the loss of human ability to fend for themselves. If you are so adamant that these people are so terrible, go a week without buying any groceries, try hunting and growing for yourself, see how far you get.

    The process may be terrible, but it is necessary for you to survive in the world we live in. You have the choice to change, but do it quickly as things are bound to change before your very eyes. Thus is the world we occupy.

  • Almost lost me there with your ad hominem, E.M. I don't thumb my nose at meat eaters, nor do I think they are neanderthals.

    I agree that there need to be some radical changes to our farming system. Some of the facts you bring up are truly alarming, and I would love to see more funding go towards solving those problems in an efficient, eco-friendly way. In the meantime, I think one of the best things anyone can do to take charge of their nutrition is to join a farmer's co-op - and I intend to do that as soon as I'm in a position to do so. It's a great way to take ownership of what you're eating, and supports the local economy and ethical choices. Win-win.

    It's impossible (or nearly so) to sustain ourselves without causing ANY damage. The point is to cause the smallest amount possible. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we are SO vastly removed from our food system, and corporations certainly take advantage of that fact.

    I choose to opt out of eating animals I know were horribly abused. This spring/summer, I would like to start growing my own vegetables. I am trying to make my own veggie burgers instead of buying the store-bought variety all the time. I am trying to eat fewer processed foods. It's small, but it's a start.

    Oh, and I sought out that fishing information because I genuinely wanted an answer to an ethical/practical question.

  • Ad hominem, good pull. While a personal attack would have surely been a more succinct way to make my point, I assure you, personal it was not.

    The term sentient life came about earlier in this conversation. I ask you this: Would you consider the greens that you eat sentient life?

  • With no brain or central nervous system - no, I would not consider them sentient.

  • I always find it funny that those who would get so disgusted that we are harming animals for sustenance, easily discount the fact that plants have proven themselves as, or more, sentient and resilient than said animals. Let's face it, the chicken doesn't represent the brightest spot in the hierarchy of sentient species and, compared to many plants, shows an extremely low resilience to predator species, like humans.

    We can see blood, we can hear screams, we can experience the visceral nature of slaughter and it makes us feel sympathetic toward the creature. There are those apply the same "sentient" traits to plants that animal sympathizers apply to pets. Could it not be that both act on instinct and mimicked behavior? Could it not be that we, as the dominant "sentient" species on the planet, choose to place these traits on our beloved animals as a way to not feel so alone? Would it not be hilarious to find out that we are the only species alive in the universe, that actually fights against their own food supply?

  • Plants do display sometimes extraordinary behavior. But this behavior is a result not of a subjective experience through senses, but rather insentient processes (chemical, mechanical, hormonal, etc.)

    The best science we have today tells us that plants are insentient. And even if they were, a vegan diet would still inflict the least amount of harm possible.

  • Those non-sentient processes you described are exactly what occurs in humans. All these thoughts we have that make us sentient, happen because of those processes. Desire, hatred, joy, all occur because of chemical, mechanical, hormonal, etc. Because we apply so much more complexity to these processes we are considered sentient? Or is it a sense of self? A soul? Thin territory to tread....

  • I can see that we're coming at this from two very different points of view.

    I think there's probably very little to be gained from further argument, but I admit that I am curious how you would respond to this paragraph (not written by me):

    "Even if it’s true that plants are the most sentient life on Earth, veganism would still be the minimum standard of decency. This follows from the simple fact that animals are reverse protein factories, consuming multiple times the protein in plant food that they produce in protein from their flesh and bodily fluids. Cows consume from 9 to 13 times, and pigs 5 to 7 times, the protein they produce, depending on diet and confinement factors. Chickens consume 2 to 4 times the protein they produce, also depending on diet and confinement factors. So the more we’re concerned about the ‘sentience’ of plants, the less we want to contribute to the staggering inefficiencies of cycling plants through animals, and the more reason we have to go vegan to reduce both animal and plant ‘suffering’."


  • No doubt that is a valid argument. Let's assume that the movement did take hold in a major way, say on the scale of what the current "meat" industry is now. The cost (both literal and philosophical) to feed the populace would be driven down. The trouble comes when those animals that we use as food begin to grow their population unchecked.

    First and foremost, the growing population of animals means that they need food to accommodate their growing population. Second, the plant life that will be destroyed in the process of feeding the growing population of animals is the same plant life that is being used to feed the human populace. Last, plants provide the best nutrients when they are grown naturally, something that will be done away with if they become the dominant source of human nourishment.

    The slaughter of the growing animal population, that was once kept in check by human consumption, would be epic. The mass production of plant life would destroy nutritional value, just like the meat industry has done today.

    A solution to this problem? Reproductive restriction. The more that the human population grows, the more we have to manufacture food to feed that growth. We have seen, and continue to see the problem with an overpopulated world. We quickly tax any region that we occupy of natural resources and are forced to manufacture said resources to feed a growing population. Restricting the number of humans being born to the ability of an area to care for the number of humans occupying it would solve this issue, increase commerce, regulate the economy, and further prosperity for all involved.

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