Mercy For Animals president Leah Garcés was recently honored to speak at TEDxSeattle, an event where live speakers share knowledge on a variety of subjects. Leah focused on unlikely allies, explaining how she’d grown from seeing factory farmers as “the enemy” to understanding them as potential partners in the journey toward a food system that works for people, animals, and the planet.
In her talk, Leah described the moment when chicken farmer Craig Watts had invited her into his home. Craig had been raising chickens for Perdue—the fourth-largest chicken company in the United States—for 22 years. As a young man in one of the poorest counties in his state, he believed working for Perdue was the best way to stay on his land. He took out a loan for a quarter of a million dollars and built sheds to house chickens. Leah described his life as a farmer:
Perdue would give him a flock. He’d raise them. And each flock, he’d get paid, and then he’d pay off in small increments that loan, like a mortgage. But pretty soon, chickens got sick. It’s a factory farm after all. There are 25,000 chickens that are stuffed wall to wall, living on their own feces, breathing ammonia-laden air. When chickens get sick, some of them die, and you don’t get paid for dead chickens.
Leah explained to the audience that soon Craig Watts was struggling to pay his loan. He realized he had made a mistake, but it was too late—he had all but become an indentured servant. As the years went by, Craig’s bills mounted, as did the number of chickens who suffered and died at his farm. Leah stated:
If we humans tried to think of some super unjust, unfair, filthy, and cruel food system, we could not have thought of anything worse than factory farming. Eighty billion farmed animals around the world annually are raised and slaughtered. They’re stuffed in cages and warehouses, never to see the light of day. And that’s not just a problem for those farmed animals. Animal agriculture—it accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the planes, trains, and automobiles put together.
After describing the many horrors of factory farming, including animal cruelty and environmental destruction, Leah explained how meeting Craig had changed her approach to ending them. In her mind, people like Craig Watts were the villain. She observed, “It’s easy to hate someone you’ve never met.” But she came to realize that Craig Watts was suffering under the same abusive industry as the animals.
Eventually, Leah and Craig worked together to release Craig’s story to the New York Times. The story and video went viral and gave them a global platform to talk about factory farming. Find out how by watching the full TEDx talk!
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