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No One’s Watching The Hen-House

By Tina Traster

My husband wakes up earlier these days. Truth told, I miss the snuggling and pillow talk but the trade-off is worthwhile. At dawn, he lets our six hens out of their locked (and predator-protected) coop. He gives them grain and oyster grit and fresh water. I hear the girls warble from my bedroom window upstairs. It’s a soft gurgling song that slowly rustles me from bed.

‘€œEggs for breakfast?’€ my husband calls from downstairs.

‘€œOf course,’€ I say, gathering my wits.
The egg yolks are golden-orange when they splat onto the fry pan. Not only do they taste earthy and full there are no hidden surprises in their manufacture. We give our six chickens organic layer pellets and organic kitchen veggie and fruit scraps. There are no traces of antibiotics or other toxins flowing through their bodies and into the eggs they so kindly produce for us daily. Once I even got an egg with two yolks ‘€“ a sign of plenty!

It took a while to build the nerve to become a backyard hen raiser but I could not be more thrilled with this decision, particularly in the wake of a recall of half a billion salmonella-tainted eggs. It is nearly impossible to feel that anyone’s watching over the hen-house ‘€“ so to speak. Agribusiness has turned our food-supply into a science-fiction nightmare, caging birds inhumanely and subjecting them to horrendous conditions. It’s hard to look at. The documentary Food Inc. did some good exposing the way hens are ‘€œraised’€ on industrial farms. But most people try to forget the images. Better not to make the connection between the ghastly unnatural and unhealthy conditions these birds are subjected to and the shiny dozen eggs you buy at the supermarket.

A salmonella outbreak helps shed light on the subject, but for how long? After the initial scare, agribusiness and government officials assure us all is well and go back to business as usual. Our government, in particular, is guilty because it is unwilling to address the underlying causes of toxic food. The government’s answer is simply ‘€œmore inspections.’€ And newspapers, which find the topic momentarily sexy, will move on to cover other stories sooner than you can say ‘€œover-easy.’€

Nothing really changes. That’s too bad. Maybe some of the 1,300 people sickened in this outbreak have become enlightened. I can only hope so.

Raising chickens in suburbia is not as difficult as I would have imagined. Apart from feeding and watering, the main task is to keep them safe. Our girls lay nearly 30 eggs a week and I give away eggs constantly. Each time I hand over an egg I’m hoping that a friend or neighbor will think more consciously about why that egg tastes so scrumptious. Sometimes I can’t resist including a little food-source lecture with my gift.

Originally, my husband and I wanted to raise chickens so we could control our food supply. We also wanted to set an example for our young daughter, who unlike Leonard Lopate, knows you don’t need a rooster for hens to lay eggs. (Lopate revealed that lapse in knowledge recently while interviewing rooftop farmers in New York City.)

This summer’s egg recall shows me we made a good decision for my family. But I also feel an obligation to spread the word, to be a food-missionary, so Americans can convert themselves from apathetic food shoppers at the mercy of agribusiness into conscious consumers who make humane healthy choices.

Tina Traster writes the New York Post’s ‘€œBurb Appeal’€ column and the ‘€œThe Great Divide’€ at

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