Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Welcome to Hypothetical Chicken Island

Dear omnivores of the world,

How are you? I’m well, the holidays are over (YAY!), it’s a fresh, new year, Auld Lang Syne and all that. Cheers, clink-clink, kiss-kiss. Given that, in the spirit of new beginnings, there’s a little something I’d like to address. Is that okay?

I just have to ask: What is it about you and your obsession with deserted islands with chickens and a single starving vegan on it? I mean, it’s weird already.

One of the things you may not realize is that your people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get vegans to imagine living on a desert island. Not because our breath smells like hummus with extra garlic (though maybe it does) or because we listen to too much Morrissey (though maybe we do) but because you just seem to really want to know what we would do in such a particular living situation, specifically if we were stranded on a deserted island with a chicken.

Growing up, as much as I enjoyed imagining what it might be like to live on Gilligan’s Island - Mary Ann would be my roommate, for sure, because, annoying as she was, you know Ginger would totally stiletto a fellow shipwreck survivor just to have a monopoly on all the lip balm - I never really gave much serious thought to eventually residing on a desert island until I went vegetarian at 15. After I’d been vegetarian for a while, I became accustomed to the strange fixation on the possibility of an eventual island-dwelling habitat as people seemed to really be concerned that I might end up in such a setting. With a chicken. Because that makes sense.

“What if you are stranded on a desert island with just a chicken? Would you eat meat then?” Once I went vegan, this question started being pitched at me at an astonishing rate. Seeing as I’ve never been the seafaring type, did my inquisitors know something I didn’t about an Old Testament-style flood?

Before I could answer their question, though, I have always had a few honest questions of my own to ask. For starters, why am I on a desert island as opposed to, you know, on land or a much more common island with some population? How did I end up there? What happened? How did the chicken end up there with me? Was he on a shipwrecked boat (or was it a downed plane?) with me and if so, why? I like chickens a lot but if I were traveling, a chicken wouldn’t my first choice as a travel mate: why is he with me? Or was he born on the desert island? (And if so, please tell us, which came first, the chicken or the egg?)

Do I have matches or a lighter that made it with me to the island without being wrecked in the process of getting to there? Is there wood? Because I never made it past Brownies into Girl Scouts, I don’t know how to start a fire on my own other than I know that I am supposed to, like, rub sticks together vigorously but, since I can tell you with 98% certainty even if I do so, it will not result in a fire, I need to know what happens if I don’t create a fire. Am supposed to eat a raw chicken? Do I have knives with me? I understand if it’s too outlandish for me to have a weapon on my deserted chicken island, but am I supposed to just throw a whole hypothetical chicken on a hypothetical fire (that I won’t be able to start)? How does this work exactly? I don’t know how to pluck a chicken and all that and I am guessing that there is no wireless on this island for me to watch some gross video (much less a device that survived whatever occurred that resulted in me becoming stranded on an unpopulated island). So, yeah, there’s that.

Okay, the island itself: are there fruit trees, you know, like the coconuts that always fell on Gilligan’s head? (I’m sorry but as a child of the 1970s, this is my frame of reference for mythical islands.) What grows there? Because if fruit trees can grow, I guess I will finally become a fruitarian and live to 113 while still looking 27 on my stupid desert island with my washboard abs and flawless skin and be really bummed that no one is around to give me any compliments. And if I have a knife of some sort for taking a chicken’s life, it would probably work just as well on chopping fruit and no fire would be required, thus I won’t feel like a failure after three days of rubbing together sticks to create a spark of some sort that could eventually lead to a fire. (And you know I won’t be able to contain that fire and I’ll end up in the water with the sharks and the chicken will be watching me from the horizon as I’m circled by fins - but, oh wait - the island is on fire now so now we’re both screwed just because I needed a fire to cook a chicken.) So fine: I will just eat the fruit - I like fruit! - and hope that mango is among them. I think I’ll be fine here with my fruit.

Is there no fruit? A chicken’s corpse could provide how many meals? I can’t imagine one would get many meals from one dead chicken. So I could live for maybe four or five days off of a dead chicken’s corpse and then I’d begin to starve, right? If I can only live for a short time off a chicken’s corpse while I’m being baked by the sun without my beloved sunblock or my big hat, I think I’d rather just, you know, die than kill a chicken. In fact, I know I would. Further, I’m guessing I am surrounded by salt water? Hydration is going to be a more immediate need that will go unmet than hunger. I really hope there are coconuts on your hypothetical desert island because I don’t care how thirsty I am, under no circumstances am I’m going to go start drinking a chicken’s blood like a psycho Paleo. Hell no.

Based on all this, I can say with confidence that I will live and die a vegan on your hypothetical island with a hypothetical chicken, with or without hypothetical vegetation. But now I have some other, non-island related questions for you.

1. Do you live on land?

2. What is the likelihood of you ever becoming stranded on a desert island to begin with, let alone stranded with a chicken? (According to The Straight Dope, pretty much nil, even more unlikely with a chicken.)

3. Presuming that you do live on land, there is soil, water, sunlight, correct?

4. And those factors support growing plants, fruits, grains, etc.?

5. I will further go out on a limb and guess that there are grocery stores, markets, growers, and so forth that sell produce and a form of currency with which one can purchase it?

6. And there is soil in which you can possibly grow your own? Correct? 

7. There is a distribution system for access to food that has been grown?

I am going to guess that you live in an environment the supports consuming foods of a non-animal-origin and that even if you don’t live near a grocery store, it is far more likely that you have access to a diverse variety of plant foods than me ending up on a desert island with a chicken, correct? And this is a choice that you can make every day, not just an imaginary scenario constructed out of thin air that does not reflect the reality of our circumstances. You can live a vibrant life that doesn’t necessitate the death of innocent beings yet you would rather focus on what I might do on a desert island with a chicken? Because of your insistence on this island, I know that your scenario is rooted more in a different tacky show of a certain vintage: Fantasy Island. This line of questioning was never really about chickens and islands, this is about rooting out the hypocrisy that you know is in me, driven by your unwillingness to ask honest, penetrating, meaningful questions of yourself.

I live in the here and now. The choices that we make in this reality matter far more than any imaginary island with a chicken. What are we doing - in the here and now - to live in alignment with our values and reduce our footprint on the environment? This is what matters. 

(And, in case you hadn’t noticed, I answered your question: Viva la chickens, even the hypothetical ones!)

xo -



  1. tee hee. Thanks for thinking this all the way through for the rest of us, Marla. I've been adverse to that much work since I landed on this island. Pass me a coconut will, yah? My skipper is asleep in the hammock.

  2. If I were stranded on a desert island I should be very glad to have the company of a chicken. Chickens are very clever and sociable, so if I am doomed to live (and probably die, in the hypothetical scenario presented) on a cursed desert island with no vegetation I would be very grateful indeed for the companionship of the lovely said chicken in my final hours. :)

  3. As Coleen Patrick Goudreau said in one of her books, they just want to know how hard it is.

    It's funny though, I was asked this many many times by fellow classmates. Don't get asked too many times by adults, ha!


  5. My standard reply is Yes. Yes, I would eat a chicken if I was on a desert island with no other means of survival. Also, I would probably eat you, if it was you and not the chicken.

    That tends to end the discussion.

  6. Literally, I've just had my first much-needed belly-laugh for 2014! Love that you showed this question as absurd by merely asking more logical questions in return. Stranded on an island with only a bird - Thanks for showing what a preposterous scenario this is! :D


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