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A condolence card for a dead battery hen: chicken geographies of death and bereavement

Authors: Yamini Narayanan*, Deakin University
Topics: Animal Geographies, Political Geography
Keywords: Chicken geographies; death; bereavement; intimate ethnographies
Session Type: Paper
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Two days after she died, a condolence card arrived in the mail for Poppy, an ex-battery hen, from the gentle veterinarian who euthanized her at her home. Out of the trillions of chickens worldwide intensively incarcerated for their eggs and meat, and slaughtered at the end of a short, brutal life, the details of Poppy’s death – familial palliative and end-of-life care; gentleness and recognition of her individual sentience at the time of her death; and human condolence and mourning, stand out vividly. While death is natural, Poppy’s death was nothing less than political. What does it mean to witness, and indeed, participate in the life and death of a farmed animal in this way? Contrasted with death in the mass-genocidal spaces of an industrial slaughterhouse that for originally intended for Poppy, this paper examines the intimate, micro-geographies of death via a home-euthanasia for a liberated farmed animal. The paper brings together the intimate ethnographies of chicken-human familial relations, and medical and population geographies that underpin the global chicken-industrial complex, to deconstruct the anthropocentrism of the geopolitics of mass killability and violent persecution. It considers the political logics of bereavement and the emotional‐affective geographies of mourning, especially for Charlie, another hen who was trauma-bonded with Poppy at the time of their rescue, and individual human carers, members of a species responsible for the intensely commodified bodies of Poppy and Charlie. Finally, the paper advances more-than-humanist geographies of remembrance to ask: what does it means to memorialize an individual intensively-farmed hen?

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