When I read Omnivore’s Dilemma the first thing that struck me was their use of the word “symbiosis”. I grew up on a farm, and I took care of the chickens, and I started thinking about “symbiosis”. Symbiosis implies that when the two creatures interact, they both benefit from the relationship. But for anyone involved in animal agriculture to use this word is simply a whitewashing to hide what really happens, or a way for them to assuage their conscience.
For example, the relationship between the dairy cow and the farmer is nothing short of parasitism. The cow’s life is greatly shortened, she has to live in filthy conditions, she is repeatedly impregnated and then has her babies taken away from her (and so-called free-range cows only gets the second condition mitigated). The only benefits the cow receives only serve to keep her alive to produce milk. Any meat-based agriculture is strictly parasitic as the animals are brought into existence for the sole purpose of being killed, after an exceeding brief and brutal life. I see no benefit for the animal.
However, based on my experience, I do think it is possible for humans and chickens to be in a symbiotic relationship. I think I was near this situation with my chickens. My chickens had about half an acre of pasture to roam freely in, they had a clean coop, fresh straw in their nest boxes, they always had fresh feed and water, and I never killed any of them. I would collect their eggs, but, unlike dairy cows, chickens will lay eggs fairly regularly whether they are breeding or not. Of course, in this exchange I took away their reproductive freedom, but every other freedom was accorded them and they lived out their full, natural lives. In my opinion, that fits the definition of “symbiosis,” anything less is parasitism.
The comments that followed the blog entry were largely filled with ignorance and intolerance, in accordance with internet traditions. But my favorite was this astounding display of all-out ignorance:
_[...] if we all become strict vegans, where's all the food going to come from?_
Obviously this person believes that the animals live on air. Animal agriculture consumes at least half of the U.S. grain production. That’s enough grain to feed 800 million people (see this), compare that to the 10.4 million children who die each year of malnutrition. How does that steak taste now?