Our feet, our selves: Sentient animals and our feet

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

Feet…feet are on my mind. In a moment we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty, but for now, let’s just think about what our feet mean to us Homo sapiens.

We love ‘em. They carry us through life, take us to amazing places, enable us to dance. We adorn them, tattoo them, encase them in the ridiculous, the sublime, the magical. Even when we have nothing else, we find a way to protect them. When all you have are plastic bottles, everything looks like a sandal.

We hate ’em. They ache, they blister. Plantar warts, fallen arches, bunions, corns, Morton’s toe, pigeon toes. There’s a world of hurt in those 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100 ligaments–times two. Aye, there’s the rub: these relatively small platforms support up to two times our (sometimes considerable) weight on a leisurely stroll and up to five times our weight when we break into a run. The agony of de feet is more than clever wordplay. “My feet are killing me”–have you ever said that?!?

Four legs good, two legs bad” I remind my canine companion as she bounds across the icy driveway or down a steep slope–while here’s me, creeping and tottering, visions of casts and crutches just one misstep away. Feets, don’t fail me now! From foot-washing in the Bible (19 mentions) to foot-binding in China, feet are a human obsession. It’s a safe bet that animals don’t obsess about or even think about their feet the way human animals do. But their feet carry them through life, too–however natural and satisfying or short and tormented those lives might be.

Forty-some Days

It was a photo–a pile of chicken feet in a slaughterhouse–that prompted an instantaneous, automatic association–the piles of shoes at Nazi death camps. It created an agitation that has lasted for days. Chicken feet–$400/U.S. per metric ton, “no broken bones, no bad smell.”

No bad smell. I think about the accounts I’ve read of conditions in factory farms where “broiler” chicks are raised for meat.

“I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe….There must have been thirty thousand chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way.” —Michael Specter, New Yorker, April 14, 2003.

“I have seen the chickens blinded by the ammonia fumes that build up in the houses. I have had the ammonia burns on my arms from handling the chickens that were coated with ammonia. My exposure lasted only for a night’s work before I could wash it off. The chickens had to live that way.” Former factory farm employee, UPC newsletter


For the 42-45 days they are required to live and suffer before they end up in buckets, nuggets, Buffalo sauce and franks, broiler chicks stand in their own waste. Blinded by fumes and suffering respiratory ailments, they are also scalded by ammonia on body and feet.

Yankee ingenuity being what it is, though, burns on feet don’t need to cut into profits: “By removing blemishes on the paws caused by ammonia buildup, this new, value-enhancing trimming application creates an important opportunity for optimizing profits on an otherwise basic, low-margin product.”

Despair–I feel despair. Not for the chicks whose suffering has ended, not even so much for the hundreds of millions already taking their place, but for my own species. Despair that Homo sapiens–whose precious feet carry us through life and into the sun–can’t conceive, won’t acknowledge, or (the horror!) simply don’t care that our fellow sentient animals, given the choice, would also choose walking in the sun over standing immobile in caustic ammonia for the entire span of their painful, unnatural lives. Rather than tearing down the factory farms and ending the suffering, we find a way to remove the “blemishes” of suffering and optimize profits. Where, oh where is our humanity?

Go ahead, view the 49-second video, then tell me you don’t feel like you’ve peered into the heart of darkness.

7 Responses

  1. Yes, I have.

    Why do these dark minds call these beautiful feet paws instead of claws?

    What use are these “dead” claws/paws, which belong to beautiful feet once attached beautiful live animals?

  2. Correction: …once attached to beautiful live animals?

  3. At $400 a metric ton they might as well say “free”. 😦 And yet, priceless to each pair who owned them.

    When I think of a chicken’s foot… With many tears, this one at UPC comes to mind:

    But I have a happier story to tell of chickens feet… Good news is sometimes so hard to come by. The “feed store” that I get chicken food from also (of course) “sells” animals too… I’m on their list to call in case one is to be destroyed… Typical of any animal-industry it’s never profitable to tend to the cheap birds.

    Anyway, I brought a small chick back home with me. As I named her – Hope was hobbling due to these burrs, blisters, callouses or whatever they’re called… Twice a day I soaked her tiny feet in baby oil and peeled away what scar-tissue there was… Within a few weeks she was non-stop-mobile!

    I adore her for sure! She’s the most talkative hen I’ve ever known… But she “quacks” more than she clucks. :/ If there’s a special treat, by the time I put it down she dives in with her wings spread in full assertion that “all this is mine!”. And her feet never fail to guide her right where she wants to claim as hers! 😉

    I know this little story does nothing in the weight and scale of the billions who never had “hope”, justice or even any speck of kindness given to them. I just don’t know how to make the world see and care — I can only cling to what I know matters… Among those certainly are chickens feet attached to the live and free being who possesses them.

    Thanks for this insight.

  4. And thank YOU, Bea…your story is priceless, and so are you.
    Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
    We are all doing “only a little,” but it matters.

  5. “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”

    I absolutely agree. But sometimes I feel that whatever little I am doing for animals is too little and too late.
    How did the human race get to this point where the suffering of billions of defenselss and helpless animals is considered standard business practice.
    I often wonder how the ‘humans’ who work on these factory farms can go home to their kids and lead a normal life. How do they sleep at night?
    Probably they are not ‘humans’ any more.

  6. Great post. thanks so much.

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