Free the chickens – do the right thing

by Ashley Rose


With the approach of Thanksgiving, beautiful Vancouver offers one final flourish of light and colour as summer gives way to fall. Themes of bounty emerge – images of harvest, heartier foods, body-warming spices, baked apples and cinnamon, rich sauces and breads – in a caravan of autumnal opulence moving into the starkness of winter.

Historically, the occasion of Thanksgiving entailed a rite performed to acknowledge how much abundance had already been received as winter approached along with the stress of wondering how one would survive the cold weather. A more profound indicator than Starbucks changing to its Pumpkin Spice product line. Yet what can the celebration mean in a culture predominantly set up to control much of its natural environment and less connected to its direct food sources? And how does this affect our relationship to either thanking or giving?

We are in a rhythm of a custom that, for most of us, holds sentimental value. Yet many are feeling driven to redefine these traditions to ensure their relevance to current context and generations. Thanksgiving has evolved to its current incarnation as a feast that brings people together to share an awesome buffet, but its violent impact on animals continues. If you look up the origin of the word “thank,” its Proto-Indo-European root means “to think, to feel.” The suggestion etymologically seems to be that gratitude can emerge from a deeper degree of awareness or attention. So in this evolution of the narrative of Thanksgiving, what are we increasing our awareness of?

Tzvi Tal, who has lived in the Commercial Drive area for 25 years, only recently learned of the West Coast Reduction chicken plant at the corner of Commercial and Hastings, which you can sometimes more easily identify by its smell rather than from seeing the building. As he learned about its practices, memories came back of his father raising chickens when he was a little boy. The happiness he saw in those animals running free was reflected in his own sense of freedom and spirit. Tal reflects, “Later on, someone told my father, ‘Instead of 20 chickens roaming free, you can have 200 chickens in a coop.’ My father, who was trying to take care of seven children, built a coop for 400 chickens. We made a little bit more money, but the chickens were not happy.” What was “more” in quantity created a scarcity in the soul.

Tzvi resolved to create an event for the coming Thanksgiving that would address the treatment of fowl as a symbol for the animal consumption industry and create a dialogue. An event that would ‘think’ and ‘feel’ about all aspects of its east end community. A consciousness raising reconceptualization of all there is to be grateful for.

October 11, 8pm: “Free the Chickens” is not a lecture and has no interest in converts. It has a sense of humour, great music, burlesque and vegan food from Graze & Eternal Abundance. It offers an embodied experience of its own best thinking – a living, breathing cornucopia that just might imply that suffering does not, in the end, equal abundance for anyone. Sit on that and let it hatch! Come and explore your own definitions of “thanking” and “giving.” Partial proceeds go to Vancouver Humane Society and Liberation BC. Everyone is welcome. Wise Hall, 1882 Adanac St., Vancouver. Info at

Ashley Rose is an actor, artist and human and animal rights advocate who has been a vegetarian for 20 years.

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