“We Just Want to Kill a Chicken”: Backyard Slaughtering Gets National Attention

Photograph by Jake Stangel for Bloomberg Businessweek


As I’ve written here (and elsewhere) before, one of the worst ideas to emerge from the locavore trend is the idea that urbanites should be allowed to keep and slaughter their own farm animals. Cities in early America–most notably New York–dedicated considerable space in their eighteenth-century legislative books to keeping animals out of dense urban centers. The reasons were as sensible then as they are now: concerns about disease, public health, and quality of life.  Why anyone would want to reverse this trend is beyond me. But people do.

The slaughterers’ guru is Novella Carpenter, pictured above. In Oakland, Carpenter and a rabid core of urban DIY animal killers have been crusading for the “right” to butcher chickens, ducks, rabbits, and even goats in their backyards. Their efforts have sparked scores of well-documented botched slaughters, not to mention a raging culinary culture war, with Ian Elwood, of Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter, leading the opposition.

Ian and I worked several months ago to push this issue into the national media, coming very close to convincing a producer at a major news outlet that this was worth a segment. Alas, the idea didn’t stick. It was thus with considerable pleasure that I learned Bloomberg Businessweek covered the issue in a piece published yesterday. Not only is Carpenter photographed in a way that makes her look chillingly indifferent to the dead animal in her hand, but her words reflect her appearance. She’s quoted as saying, “We don’t want to open up a slaughterhouse in the backyard, we just want to kill a chicken.”  Just want to kill a chicken.

Too bad Carpenter wasn’t able to attend the Conscious Eating Conference, held at Berkeley’s student union a few weeks ago. There she would have had an opportunity to learn, among other things, that the chicken does not want to be killed, and that there are many decent humanswho, liberated from speciesism, will fight very hard to prevent that from happening.


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

5 Responses to “We Just Want to Kill a Chicken”: Backyard Slaughtering Gets National Attention

  1. Britt says:

    I recently found your articles on The Atlantic’s site and am happy to find that you also have a blog. Your ideas helped me work through a lot of things that I had difficulty coming to terms with since going vegan. Thank you for your bluntness and your bravery. Keep up the great work!

  2. CQ says:

    Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns, commenting under the Bloomberg Businessweek article, says the chicken in Novella’s hand is still alive. That’s what I thought, too, after seeing photos of employees at chicken factories carelessly holding live chickens upside down by the legs. Karen’s point is that this backyard slaughter guru claims to be more humane than industry standards — yet the photo belies that pretense. A small point, perhaps, but significant.

    I’m glad you’re keeping close watch on this barbaric trend, James, and I’m glad that folks like Britt are discovering you. “Bluntness” and “bravery.” Britt’s right.

  3. Daniela Nyvltova says:

    Thank you for this article. Although missing the true gory of any killing, the sadness and despair is overwhelming. Knowing that even a woman can see “nothing wrong with senseless killing of an innocent animal” is alarming. Being vegan, an animal rights activist and being surrounded by a circle of highly evolve, compassionate and great people that share love and cherish live, to me it is really weird that most people are so heartless. The outmost compassion that most people are capable of expressing is towards their beloved pets…. however how many is able to see that there is no difference between their pure bread pet or a simple chicken? Unfortunately, the fact is that we do live in a society where is commonly accepted being a brainless and compassionate-less robot/ a subject for brainwashing.

  4. Provoked says:

    If a picture is worth a thousand words – this is it. Carpenter isn’t only photographed in a way that makes her look chillingly indifferent to the dead animal – She appears to be indifferent to all of life. Maybe even disappointed in herself – And rightfully so!

    I am a lucky person – I get to caress, pet and adore birds everyday… I don’t know what kind of callous mindset it must take to “care” for a chicken and then take his/her precious life away. All of it is so very ugly. And that’s the word I was looking for for the photo: Ugly!

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