Welcome to the second instalment of my two-part interview with Clare Druce who, with her mother Violet Spalding, co-founded Chickens’ Lib around 1970. Clare’s book, Chickens’ Lib, is an insider’s account of their campaigns. It’s a must-read history of the campaign against battery cages.
Philip: In your recent book, Chickens’ Lib, you chart the history of our movement in the UK and Europe through the lens of your own organisation. I love the compelling and vivid writing in your book, bringing to life the joy of being a hen in freedom, and the misery of being caged.
Tell us more about your book, why you wrote it and what you’d like readers to take away from it.
Clare: Chickens’ Lib’s campaigning spanned nearly half a century, and I’d kept a great deal of material from those years. It seemed a pity not to draw on this, as it demonstrates how attitudes have gradually changed, but also how very hard it is to be fighting entrenched views of “food animals” (what a horrible expression!) and the forces of big business - it’s no coincidence that the industry describes broiler chickens as a crop, to be harvested.
Unfortunately, many consumers allow themselves to believe what, deep down, they want to believe, and are only too happy to be reassured that all’s well on the farm. And, sadly, it’s all too easy to be taken in by clever advertising and what can only be described as lies.
Often, we would buy live poultry (from tiny day-old ducklings to big turkeys) partly in order to study their behaviour under natural surroundings. This taught us so much about their deep and urgent needs, totally unchanged by all the ruthless genetic selection by scientists worldwide. At the same time, our rescued birds gave us so much pleasure – it was deeply rewarding to watch them gaining in confidence, health and happiness. I hope that some of the stories in my book are uplifting! I tried throughout to write in an accessible style, while at the same time providing the reader with the necessary hard facts. I just want more people to face the hidden suffering that the farming industry strives to keep secret.
Philip: How did it make you feel putting a lifetime devoted to fighting for farm animals between the covers of a book? When you wrote the last word, were you hopeful for the future? What was your overriding emotion?
Clare: Mostly, great relief! Pulling together the threads of such a long campaign was hard. But there was huge satisfaction too. Recording so much of what we did, hopefully in a style that makes the book an easy read despite the grim truths, proved a fascinating project. And I was glad to take the opportunity of crediting at least a few of our marvellous helpers.
Describing our experiences of the greed of multi-nationals combined with the apparent obtuseness of successive governments regarding farmed animals might even help to serve as an extra and useful warning.
While your Farmageddon gives a brilliant global over-view of the scene I believe my approach, often describing small personal happenings that sparked off important new campaigns, is interesting. For example, finding a dying broiler chicken by the roadside, fallen from a transport lorry, marked the beginning of our in-depth research into the monstrous chicken industry.
I wrote my book with hope that it might improve the dire conditions endured by farmed animals, for one must hope, however grim the outlook might seem. There’s a saying I like very much – something along the lines that one should live with “the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the spirit.”
I’m a realist, and few of us can help but notice how humans repeat their mistakes, again and again. Yet despite this I do hold onto the hope that our planet will learn lessons, and improve. And already there are hopeful signs.
Philip: What are the things that you see as really important for us to achieve now for farm animal welfare?
Clare: Faced with the massive suffering of “food animals” there’s a painful dilemma - whether we activists should ask for the whole cake, or be grateful for just one slice now and again.
I never underestimate the problems of a vegan world. For example, some communities perhaps could not survive without eating meat or fish. Yet I think the way forward must be towards a world where the human population learns to survive on a wholesome diet free from the flesh, milk or eggs of non-human animals.
Tree Aid is a charity which supplies farmers in poor countries with trees and the tools and know-how to care for them. The trees improve the soil and water retention, while providing protein, green food and shade. How much better than sending livestock, where the incentive to enlarge farms might lead farmers to adopt our disastrous modern systems!
Compassion has done wonders for farmed animals in this country and overseas, where conditions are often abysmal.
Compassion has persuaded even the most blinkered governments to consider introducing animal protection laws. And, largely due to its efforts, animals are now officially recognised as sentient beings. The list of Compassion’s great achievements is long.
But to truthfully answer your question Philip, as a committed vegan I’d like to see every farmed animal welfare activist heading in the same direction – and that’s towards a world free from “food animals”.
Philip: Thank you!
Click here to read the first instalment of Philip’s two-part interview with Clare Druce.