Guest Gina Warren discusses her newest book Hatched: Dispatches from the Backyard Chicken Movement, published May 2021 by University of Washington Press. Warren chronicles her experience in starting a backyard chicken flock from bringing home day old chicks, feeding and housing them, and eventually butchering and cooking them as meat. Rather than offering practical advice or a how-to-guide to raising chickens, Warren instead demonstrates thoughtful grappling with what it means to be an ethical eater in a capitalist society.
Warren’s journey with ethical eating begins as a vegetarian seeking alternative ways to acquire animal protein while causing the least amount of harm to animals and the environment and taking an active role in producing her own food. Warren states her mission clearly: “I chose to increase the overlapping territory in the Venn diagram between what I consume and what goods I can understand as part of a continuous process.” While raising a small flock of egg-laying chickens, Warren interrogates the industrial food system and the cruelties inflicted on poultry. However, Warren is also critical of the backyard chicken movement and the inequities in class privilege it can reveal. The Silicon Valley Tour de Coop brings up some complex paradoxes, revealing that the ability to raise chickens may be a product of privilege, and chicken zoning regulations are largely products of environmental racism and redlining. While raising animals and plants for food in urban areas can be a powerful act of undermining capitalism with agriculture, Warren points out many ways that these are still exclusive and incomplete actions. Similarly, in her chapter about dumpster diving for food to feed herself and her chickens, Warren acknowledges that being white, young, and female – “someone who doesn’t look like they need to be dumpster diving” - protects her in an encounter with the police.
Warren writes with unflinching and unsentimental candor about the end of the chickens’ lives when she teaches a small group of interested learners about humane butchering. Her respect for their lives and pragmatic gratitude for their deaths is moving. The final chapters explore the act of eating meat, and Warren describes some delicious sounding preparations of liver pate, chicken feet, and stir-fried intestines, as well as the pleasure and pride of preparing meals for friends and family that align with her ethical values.
Warren’s creative writing MFA and English PhD serve her well in blending narrative and research with a journalistic style that is accessible and entertaining while also mounting a well-supported critique of food systems.
Gina G. Warren writes about animals, the natural world, and human relationships for publications such as Orion, Creative Nonfiction, and Terrain.org. She raises a flock of chickens in her backyard.
Carrie Helms Tippen is Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches courses in American Literature. Her 2018 book, Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity (University of Arkansas Press), examines the rhetorical strategies that writers use to prove the authenticity of their recipes in the narrative headnotes of contemporary cookbooks. Her academic work has been published in Gastronomica, Food and Foodways, American Studies, Southern Quarterly, and Food, Culture, and Society.
Carrie Helms Tippen is Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches courses in American Literature.