I recently had the opportunity to visit the new National Museum of Animals & Society in Los Angeles. It’s a small but stately building in East Hollywood, and its inaugural exhibit is an excellent example of how meaningful its mission is.
The museum began with online displays that illustrate various aspects of the human-animal bond. But having a physical presence now expands its ability to educate and enlighten the public.
“Uncooped,” its first physical exhibit, uses a variety of visual and tactile displays to tell the history of chicken use and abuse. It has historical items, such as books and vintage toys (including one in which players shoot darts at a cardboard hen to make her “lay” plastic eggs), as well as displays of implements and devices used in agriculture. The most chilling is an old “debeaking” device, which used a hot blade to cut the beak tips off newborn chicks (similar devices are still used today).
The narratives, photographs, displays and videos combine to tell the sobering tale of how our society has reduced these birds to commodities who suffer one by one – by the billions. The sorrow of their individual and collective agony is palpable. Carolyn Merino Mullin (pictured here with me), Lisa Levinson and the other museum staff have done an excellent job telling this story.
For me, the most meaningful display is one in the far back corner of the exhibit. In a dimly lit, narrow three-sided cubicle, you are asked to remove their shoes and stand on top of a small wire crate. Next, you put on headphones attached to a small audio player. You stand closely facing the walls, which are covered with poster-sized panoramic photographs of the inside of an industrial egg facility. You listen as the narration describes the sights, sounds, smells and sensations experienced by battery hens. To the best of your ability, you are part of their world, if only for a few minutes. (And you realize quickly what a lifetime spent on wire floors does to your feet.)
It would be wonderful if a tour through this exhibit preceded every trip through a fast-food chicken joint. Perhaps consumers would refuse to “Eat Mor Chikin” if they took a few minutes to feed their minds first.
– Jill Howard Church