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A Brigstow Institue Project: The life and death of food chickens

AcronymA Brigstow Institue Project
StatusFinished
Period17/07/1716/07/18

Description

This multidisciplinary research project will follow two individual farm chickens through the final phase of their life, to slaughter and eventually to the plate. Both chickens will be living on commercial farms, one on an organic farm and the other on an intensive broiler unit. The project is unique in documenting the experience of a human living with each chicken, and exploring people’s reaction to the end-of-life experience of farm animals through these individual birds.

To eat well humans need their food to contain particular attributes. Beyond the basic nutritive and safety requirements each person has other values which bring them greater well-being, or can detract from their enjoyment of food. In this project we will explore what eating well means to people in the context of killing animals for food, and what a cultural approach can bring to the assessment of welfare of food animals.


1) What ‘eating well’ means in the context of killing animals for food

'Eating Well' is as much a cultural as it is a physiological concept: it speaks in a general and vague sense to culturally defined norms of what is desirable and undesirable in food. Modern, western food cultures have developed highly polarised narratives around the consumption of animals. While the explicit decision not to eat meat often centres on the inevitably of animals' death, the issue is invariably ignored or deliberately obscured. This project seeks to examine how this question might be re-centred - in a non-partisan manner - in debates around food and eating.

We will achieve this through:

1. A creative piece focused on the end-of-life experience of a food animal
2. A workshop/exhibition/intervention that challenges participants to consider their responses to the piece, and to spark a conversation around the hidden reality of death within our food.

2) What a cultural approach can bring to animal welfare assessment.

Animal welfare science has developed methods for assessing the welfare of both individuals and groups of animals. Many on-farm techniques are constrained by the time available for assessment and utilise short observations and/or management records. Alternatively, for research purposes, focal animals may be followed remotely through video observations. Here we aim to understand the value of embodying the life of a chicken to a degree never employed before for welfare assessment purposes. The researcher (SM) will live with the chicken in its flock for its final 24hrs, be led by its motivations and evaluate its welfare.

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