Cross-posted in Portuguese at Conhecimento Prudente.
Philippa brought our attention to a recent ad campaign by the Egg Farmers of Ontario, an organization that promotes Ontario’s egg industry. The campaign, titled Who Made Your Eggs Today?, draws the consumer’s attention to the families engaged in producing Canada’s eggs. The images and videos focus on an idealized image of family farms, emphasizing tradition, family togetherness, and a connection to the land:
But as Philippa pointed out, there’s something noticeably absent here: the chickens themselves. There’s quite a bit of talk about chickens — how much the farmers enjoy working with them, how amazing it is that they produce an egg nearly every day, what they eat, and so on — but I didn’t see a single chicken in any of the videos listed on the Farm Families page. (Though videos on later years include brief shots of chickens.)
This ad campaign seems to provide transparency into how food is produced; we get to see into the lives of actual egg producers in Ontario, and hear them speak about their lives and the process that brings eggs to the consumer. And for those of us concerned about how the conditions under which our food is produced, this is an important step, as most consumers have little or no direct experience with farming or the lives of people who raise food. The appeal of farmers’ markets , community-based agriculture, and other alternative food distribution outlets is not just the idea of getting environmentally sustainable produce, but also making a connection to a specific producer, and often a desire to support small-scale family farmers.
But the insight into the egg supply chain offered here is selective. What is carefully avoided in the videos is any discussion of how the hens are treated. We never quite see into the barns to see how the chickens are housed; we don’t hear whether artificial lighting and other techniques are used to boost egg production in ways that cause physical stress to the hens; we don’t know anything at all, in fact, about the chickens.
We enter the story when the eggs have been separated from layers’ housing; we see clean, pretty eggs moving along on mechanized belts or being carefully placed into cartons by hand; our attention as consumers is directed to the people running the farms and away from discussions of the animals or larger concerns about sustainability. As Philippa says, “in giving the egg farmers a public face, the campaign is actually distancing the public from the product they are promoting.”
Also check out our post about Nathan Meltz’s artwork highlighting modern food production, including his Chicken Coup video.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.