Yes, he’s 12. He’s a vegetarian, a chicken lover and an animal activist. He raises chickens, wins blue ribbons at country fairs, and shares his passion at Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs. Oh, and we almost forgot. He just just started keeping bees, too. Which means he now has a second Twitter handle, HappyHoneyBees. TNGG is honored to have Orren answer our questions during our first food week.
When did you get interested in raising chickens?
I get asked this a lot. I wish I had a really smart, funny answer for that. I don’t. I visited a farm one day with my babysitter and I guess I just got up the next morning and was obsessed with chickens. Some people love drums,race cars,or soccer,I’m naturally interested in chickens. When I figured that out my parents took me to the library and checked out all the books we could find on chickens and then I started to volunteer at a local farm that had about 50 hens. After having worked at the farm for about a year, Julie who owns the farm asked if I wanted to get my own chicks. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I went to the local feed store and picked out 12 little baby hens. They lived in our kitchen for several weeks until they were old enough to be in the colder barn. I have been interested in them ever since. That was almost 3 years ago when I was 9.
Did it start because you had strong feelings about how animals were raised and slaughtered?
Yes and also because, honestly, I just found them fascinating animals. They are surprisingly social animals. Then in 5th grade we had to do a presentation to the school. Yup you guessed it mine was on chickens. We spent all year researching and putting together a presentation. During that time I became aware of how most hens raised for meat and eggs were treated. It made me so angry. I actually couldn’t believe it. It was at that point that I stopped eating meat. I think my presentation was quite shocking to many people. In fact I’m not sure people liked to hear about it. They would rather just eat the chicken fingers and not think about the animal.
I supposed now you’re going to tell us something we don’t want to hear.
Did you know that the eggs you buy from the supermarket, the 1.99 eggs are from hens that have no more space than piece of paper. Also their beaks are cut off with a hot blade, so that while they are squeezed into their cages they don’t peck at each other. Really! I wasn’t cool with that. So I then did more and more research and decided to try and change things. I had started a blog when I first got my hens just as my own journal. I didn’t share it with anyone. I just wanted to keep track of what was happening with my hens. When I found out how horribly the hens were treated I started to write about that, and I started to post some challenging material. People started taking notice and started to respond to what I was writing. All of a sudden it seemed as if some people were interested. Maybe it was just because they wanted to “correct” my blog posts, but more often I felt like I was being supported.
Is it rare that someone your age is so aware of the food on the table and where it comes from?
I’m not really sure. We talk about it a little at school, because we have a greenhouse where we grow food for The Food Project. The Food Project grows pesticide free food for shelters. Usually the food that is donated to shelters is highly processed and not that nutritious. So we grow food to donate. We also have bees to harvest the honey.
I guess I became more interested when I learned about the treatment of the chickens for food, then it made me wonder what about all the other food out there.
What actually is an Oreo? The ingredients didn’t make sense to me. They sounded more like lab experiments than ingredients from a recipe for food. I mean they taste awesome, don’t get me wrong, but what the heck is it? Hard to believe our bodies were built to easily digest some of those ingredients!
What do your friends think of your interest and passion?
Most don’t really pay attention. They would rather think about other things. I think it was cooler when I was in 5th grade, now that we are in 7th everyone is talking about other things. Chickens aren’t really a cool subject, know what I mean? Everyone knows I am into it but we don’t really talk about it that much anymore. I think older kids are more interested and adults seem really interested. I guess it is unusual to be talking about this subject and to have a blog / twitter. Most kids are told. “The Internet is scary and dangerous.” I’m sure this is sort of true, so I am careful, my parents are involved every step of the way, but really the Internet is way cool.
Do any of them eat at McDonalds?
What do you think of that?
I’m not interested in going myself. I have watched the movies Super Size Me and Food, Inc. and the idea makes me lose my appetite. McD’s is certainly convenient, cheap and always available, but I would say that cheap food has no value. I guess the only value is you can buy lots of calories for a low price. I think it is the kind of food that might taste good but makes you feel terrible, both in your body and in your thoughts.
Population growth puts more and more pressure on food processors to deliver both quantity and lower prices. How can we resolve this challenge with your desire for better treatment of animals?
It is an important question. I don’t really think I know enough to have a REAL solution. But to start I would ask chicken producers to build their business with some thought towards the bird. Check out Farm Sanctuary Poultry Issues.
I also read recently that we throw out enough food in waste, to feed the world. I should probably go find that exact fact, but isn’t that just amazing. Maybe it is about producing more food, but maybe it is also about wasting less food. Jared Blumenfeld, city environmental officer for San Francisco says, “Composting your food scraps is probably the single most effective thing you can do as a citizen in the United States today.” As a result of hearing this I just got 2000 Red Wiggler worms to help me with composting. I think I might design a shirt that says I (heart) Worms. What do you think?
I think it’s great. I’ll take one.
Can one kid make an impact on more than a few blog readers? I mean can you, are you determined to change the food system?
Yup, why not? Actually I think people may be able to hear what I have to say because I’m a kid. I don’t have all the stats and information exactly right, but what I do know for a fact is that we should think about and respect what we eat.
We should be able to know what we are eating. We should know where our food comes from. Abuse doesn’t have to be part of what we eat – abuse of the soil, abuse of the farm workers, abuse of the farmer, abuse of the animals.
You get the point. Also you know what, food from your CSA or local farmer just tastes better. That’s all it tastes better.
I love your idea about informed decisions. Do you think most people even think about where their food’s source?
Informed decisions comes from a book I am reading, JS Foer’s new book Eating Animals and he talks about the time his babysitter said “You know that chicken is chicken, right?” I’m afraid most people know that but don’t really want to think about it. It is hard to imagine. Many people have never “met” a chicken before and this is what makes it possible to eat chicken. When you do meet this interesting animal, it is hard not to realize how they are very much like other animals. Maybe even like animals you love. They have personalities, likes and dislikes. They are happy to see you when you visit? They get mad at each other? They take care of each other? They are super funny? Do you know any other animals like that? Do any live with you? Maybe I’ve said enough. If you are going to eat chicken, I would hope you to consider how that animals was raised and slaughtered. If it were tortured would you still want to eat it? I think you can taste the torture. Gross.
I don’t think most people really think about where their food comes from. Maybe it really isn’t that interesting a subject, but actually I think people should think about it. I think they might find it interesting. People care how their shirts were made (were they made with kids working in factories?),why not care about food? Food has a huge impact on everything! But it is also really complicated; there are so many topics around food, health for example. I mean look at what many kids eat now and look at how many kids are obese. So we may be able to feed a lot of people with all of our food but is it also making us sick? Food shouldn’t make us sick.
Do you think you’re setting an example for what others in your generation can do? Embrace a cause, stand for something, or speak out? Is that important to you? Or is this just about your interest?
Kids have tons of ideas and cool solutions for how to solve some issues. I think people should listen to kids. Why not? As for setting an example, I don’t really think about that. But I do think if we feel strongly about something why wouldn’t you talk about it. Why keep it a secret? Sometimes it is a little scary, when people really disagree with you, but that’s ok. If I don’t say something who will? I’m one of the only ones I know who cares about the factory farmed hens, If I don’t say something to the people I know then I can’t help the hens lives get better.
How much help do you get from your parents?
I used to get a lot more. When I was little they would help me clean some of the coops, carry the 50 pound bags of feed, and do research, but now I can do all of that on my own. My mom helps me a little with my blog. I started to do a blog just really to have a journal of raising birds, but instead of doing it in a little book I started with it online. Then I got more and more interested in “the issues” and it became a great place to keep track of it all. I get quite a bit of feedback from the blog and twitter. I have a bunch of cool ‘friends’ from twitter, including the people who made the movie Food, Inc and the movie FRESH. Just recently I talked to Daniel from TheWHOfarm, awesome. He was telling me how I might be able to get to see the White House Organic garden. I think the White House should have a few hens. I’d be happy to help them.
What reaction do you get from adults? Do they take you seriously?
I think it is easier for adults to hear me sometimes, than another adult. I guess I’m not very bossy and I don’t know everything. I just ask them questions and eventually the issue comes out and I tell them my point of view. I always invite people to come meet my hens, so they can see what Paprika, my big bossy Brahma looks like when she comes to greet me. She is full of news and is talking the minute I get out to see her. I know this sounds weird but I think I understand what they are saying to me. I have heard people say this about their dogs or cats. I feel the same way.
So often when people meet my hens they get it. I try and take my hens to places where people can meet them – school, the farmer’s market, church.
What reaction, if any, have you got from the food industry? Are you on their radar?
I wrote a “persuasive essay” for my English class, called “Meet your Meat,” and the night I was supposed to load it onto my USB to take to school I forgot my USB, of course. So my mom said, “Why don’t you post it on your blog,” which I did. Literally eight hours later, Marty Brett, Senior Communications Officer, Chicken Farmers of Canada responded to my essay. He “corrected” some of my facts. I did more research and have to say I disagree with a number of his points, but it was probably good for me to go back and check my information. I also have a great relationship with the company that created Food,Inc. Also I think some people from Monsanto have left comments on my blog, as “anonymous”.
Where do you see this project going? Will it be a life-long pursuit?
That is a hard question. I think it will be part of who I am forever, but I hope that what I am talking about now will become more normal so the issue won’t need someone like me talking about it all the time.
If you Googled Orren Fox 10 years from now, what would you want to see?
Small forward for the NBA and ethical farmer. One problem as of now,I am only 5′ 2″ and I don’t have a farm. If you Googled me in 18 months you’d see that I now have honeybees and more red wiggler worms.
Do you see yourself as an extremist or a moderate?
To me I’m moderate; to the world I’m extremist. Although I try not to be too weird about it. Actually I really want to be a moderate because that would mean that what I am talking about was normal. Imagine a world where the animals you eat were respectfully raised and slaughtered, always. That food was really valued!
What’s your favorite meal?
Pizza and also eggs scrambled in the pan.