Letter from Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen

I am writing this letter in support of EON's efforts to eliminate battery eggs from Weshop.  There are many good reasons for doing this; I want to discuss three interrelated reasons.

First, if one can prevent great harm and suffering with very little cost to one's self, then one has a moral responsibility to take that action.  Here is a common philosophical example.  You are walking briskly to class as you are a bit late and there is a quiz that day.  On your way you pass a fountain in which a small child is apparently drowning.  It would be easy to rescue the child, but you will miss the quiz and get your clothes wet.  Alternatively, you could walk on by and do nothing in order to make sure you didn't miss the quiz.  Clearly, missing a quiz and getting your clothes wet is a small price to pay for the life of a child.  Failing to prevent such a great harm for a relatively low cost cannot be defended from an ethical point of view.

Yes, you might think, but that is a child, not a chicken.  Which brings me to my second reason.  Of course, the loss of a child's life cannot easily be compared with the life of a hen, and besides, the hens are not being killed, at least not immediately.  But every hen in a factory farm is suffering, suffering intensely, before she is eventually killed.  She is cramped, unable to spread her wings. She suffers lifelong blisters from abrasions from the wire cages.  When she is debeaked she suffers agonizing pain.  When she is forced to molt she is starved for up to three weeks.   And she is not alone in her suffering. In Connecticut approximately 5 million hens live, and many die, in similar pain.  When you take the pain and suffering of one hen and multiply it by millions you are talking about a huge amount of suffering.  And this huge amount of suffering can be eliminated for very little cost.  By switching from battery eggs to free range eggs, one is making an ethical choice to take action to eliminate suffering.

This action taken as a student body is an important statement that Wesleyan students believe that they are responsible for the choices they make.  Collectively, Wesleyan students can refuse to support an industry that causes unimaginable suffering.  And importantly, and this is the third good reason to support EON's proposal, this action can be taken without giving up one's choice to eat eggs if that is what one wants to do.  Alternative eggs that are not the products of exploited animals who are forced to suffer and die in factory farms are available. 

In a world in which there is so much suffering, human and non-human, it may often seem that there is very little that we can do, as individuals or collectives.  In the case of battery hens, there is a relatively easy, relatively low cost alternative that directly minimizes suffering.  Eliminating this source of suffering from Weshop is a good thing to do for the hens, for the students, and for the community.  It represents a commitment to responsible consumption and it is one small step towards creating a world with less unnecessary suffering. 


Professor Lori Gruen
Department of Philosophy

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