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The Girls (whom I have written about before) as they are commonly referred to around here, Ila and Lisa, are five and one-half years old, which in chicken years is pretty up there. On average the typical laying hen lives one to three years before she is culled. For commercial/economic reasons they usually have one to two good seasons of egg laying before they are retired. In comparison to contemporary chickens bred and raised for meat who on average are slaughtered at six to eight weeks, one to three years is long. How long an average lifespan a chicken would have if it did not become dinner depends upon its breed and type and obviously overall health but they have been known to live into their mid to late teens. Nevertheless, nearing the six year mark, the Girls are certainly on the upper age range of the average chicken.
Many folks who have not had much contact with live poultry will often ask how many eggs they lay a day. Again this depends on breed and type but for the most part a hen in the prime of her laying years—one to two seasons—will often lay one egg a day which can add up quickly enough to nearly 300 eggs a year. As she ages she will continue to lay but will produce fewer eggs each season. For the Girls, Ila even as a five-year-old hen was laying an egg just about every other day since early February with only recently entering a molting stage or resting period where her energy is redirected and she replaces her old feathers with new ones. Not bad for an older bird. (Incidentally, Lisa has some reproductive health issue and is no longer laying but she does well with providing Ila company so she certainly earns her keep.)
The reason I share about my chickens in this post however is not simply because I’m a weird urban dweller who raises chickens, but rather because the Girls have made me appreciative of the work they do, for what they provide, and makes me sensitive—even extra-sensitive—to the value of something seemingly simple yet incredibly complex as an egg, the significant investment that is put into it, and in the cases when one has been inadvertently broken, the great loss. It takes considerable work to produce an egg.
A recent National Geographic article recently reported and was entitled: One-Third of Food Is Lost or Wasted: What Can Be Done. Perhaps we should take a moment and let that statistic sink in. One-third of food is lost or wasted! This is a global phenomena in both the developed and developing world. In the US alone this includes 28% of eggs by weight is lost or wasted. That’s a lot of hens doing a lot of work that is seemingly going unappreciated. But of course it’s a lot more than just eggs, and for that matter chicken too. In the US 133 billion pounds of food is wasted. This includes everything from fruit and vegetables, meat and milk, grains, nuts, and oil. More than 30 percent of our food isn’t eaten and most of it is because it is wasted. That fruit at the farmers’ market that looked so appetizing when you bought it got stuck in the back of the refrigerator until it went moldy, wasted. Going out to dinner with friends the other night when you weren’t able to finish your plate, half of it got dumped, wasted. The box of whatever-it-was in your pantry that had a used by date that has already passed, you through out concerned it’d gone bad, wasted. For these reasons and many more, food is wasted.
But it’s not only at personal level. Stores throw out enormous amounts of food annually. The British retailer Tesco threw out 110 million pounds of food in the UK stores last year. A particular solid waste authority in California’s Salinas Valley receives between four and eight million pounds of vegetables directly from the fields. Waste happens at all levels. In the US this waste means $162 billion is wasted annually. $162 billion dollars is thrown away.
Food waste also takes place in the developing world, however there significant amounts of food is lost due to infrastructure and food chain issues.
This is taking place when globally 805 million people are going hungry with 49 million people in the USA are considered “food insecure,” which is defined as “not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
Alongside the tremendous waste and loss of resources—food and money—and the reality of the huge numbers of hungry people are the environmental implications of the waste: the waste in land use, diminishment in biodiversity, and climate damage especially when our food waste is landfilled and releases methane that escapes into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than CO2.
Waste has never been a biblical value. But it goes well beyond simply an issue of waste. Somehow, in the abundance that many of us do experience we have lost focus on the complexity of our actions and how they are interrelated with others—from the environment, hunger, climate, etc. As well as the people and animals that connect it all.
Therefore I share about the Girls because somehow they serve as a reminder, daily and visible, as well as tastefully providing their eggs.