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Denny’s Super Bowl Ad – Not All Its Cracked Up To Be

February 9, 2010

I’m going to go slightly off-topic from food-policy today and hope that the readers of this blog and my fellow authors will indulge me while I address something from the arena of pop culture.  For those of you who are already studying for midterms and missed the Super Bowl, Denny’s bought three commercial slots to publicize their free Grand Slam breakfast giveaway. Don’t go running over to New Jersey just yet (the nearest Denny’s is 25 miles from NYU, in Avenal), because the promotion ended at 2 pm today. You aren’t missing much though; the Grand Slam breakfast comes with 2 pancakes, 2 pieces of bacon, 2 sausage links and 2 eggs, all for the low low cholesterol count of 450 mg (300 mg is the recommended daily allowance).

But the nutrition value of the Grand Slam isn’t the topic I found most disturbing on Sunday night, watching America’s game. Denny’s campaign used three commercials, the first of which started with two chickens, sitting on their nests, watching a faux news broadcast in which the spokesman was advising chickens to use their “chicken vacation days, personal days, tell your boss you have jury duty” and just get out of town, because the free Grand Slam promotion meant “a lotta eggs.” “Rest assured ladies, its going to be a rough week for you egg layers.”  The first ad closes with the  saying, “Its a great day to be an American – bad day to be a chicken.”  The two follow-up ads were simply chickens squalking in distress and screaming while running around the screen, closing with the line about it being a bad day to be a chicken.

My issue with this ad is that it takes a gruesome issue like factory-farming eggs and tries to make a joke out of the hellish lives of chickens. (Full-disclosure – I am not a vegetarian. And I’m not a member of PETA. I did check PETA’s website to see if they had any official comments about this ad, but all they offered was praise that the animals used in the Super Bowl ads were largely animatronics and not real live animals.)  Peter Singer’s latest book, written with Jim Mason, offers an insight into the lives of egg-producing chickens. I’ve quoted the following passage, which Singer & Mason cite as being referenced from Ian Duncan’s “Welfare Problems of Poultry” in John Benson and Bernard Rollins, eds., The Well-Being of Farm Animals, Iowa State Press, Ames, 2004.

Most Americans know little about how their eggs are produced. They don’t know that American egg-producers typically keep their hens in bare wire cages, often crammed eight or nine hens to a cage so small that they never have room to stretch even one wing, let along both. The space allocated per hen, in fact, is even less than broiler chickens get, ranging from 48 to 72 square inches. Even the higher of these figures is less than the size of a standard American sheet of typing paper. In such crowded conditions, stressed hens tend to peck each other – and the sharp beak of a hen can be a lethal weapon when used relentlessly against weaker birds unable to escape. To prevent this, producers routinely sear off the ends of the hens’ sensitive beaks with a hot blade – without an anesthetic.” (The Ethics of What We Eat, 37)

So you can understand my disgust (read: horror) at Denny’s trying to make a joke about how terrorized the chickens were feeling during the weeks leading up to their giveaway. Chickens don’t have the cognitive capacity to earn “chicken vacation days,” but they sure know that it hurts when their beaks are removed and when they can’t stretch their wings.

Denny’s shareholders voted last year on whether to increase the number of eggs sourced from cage-free hens from 5% to 10%. The Humane Society published in 2008 that Denny’s started to make a move away from battery cages to cage free hens, but I couldn’t find anything that conclusively said that the shareholders passed or opposed the HSUS’s proposal.

So what’s a consumer to do? Singer & Mason illustrate the absurdity of the food labeling system and offer evidence that phrases like, “animal care certified” are not meaningful. The Humane Society dissects the commonly used labels. The best thing you can do is to buy your eggs from a local farmer, in person, where you know what you’re getting. Pretty tall order for this urban-dweller. Our supermarket carries Pete & Gerry’s eggs, which the label tells me are USDA Certified Organic and are Cage-Free. I looked into the source of the eggs and read that this New Hampshire farm allows their chickens three times the standard amount of space and that the chickens roam in an “airy” barn. No specific comments about beak-cutting, forced molting, or whether the chickens go outside though.

Do others have suggestions for egg-eaters in NYC  or beyond?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2010 6:17 pm

    There are so many good egg producers at the NYC Greenmarkets that I’ve hardly ever bought supermarket eggs since moving to the city. Look up the market closest to you on this handy web form: Average price for a dozen eggs is usually between $3 and $6, which isn’t super-cheap (though it’s pretty comparable to “cage free” and “organic” and so on eggs at, say, Whole Foods), but it’s definitely worth it. I’d much rather eat fewer good eggs than lots of yucky mystery ones.

  2. May 27, 2010 10:34 am

    You have done it again! Great article.

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