Our feet, our selves: sentient animals and our feet


Feet…feet are on my mind. In a moment we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty, but for now, let’s just think about what our feet mean to us Homo sapiens.

We love ’em. They carry us through life, take us to amazing places, enable us to dance. We adorn them, tattoo them, encase them in the ridiculous, the sublime, the magical. Even when we have nothing else, we find a way to protect them. When all you have are plastic bottles, everything looks like a sandal.

We hate ’em. They ache, they blister. Plantar warts, fallen arches, bunions, corns, Morton’s toe, pigeon toes. There’s a world of hurt in those 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100 ligaments–times two. Aye, there’s the rub: these relatively small platforms support up to two times our (sometimes considerable) weight on a leisurely stroll and up to five times our weight when we break into a run. The agony of de feet is more than clever wordplay. “My feet are killing me”–have you ever said that?!?

Four legs good, two legs bad” I remind my canine companion as she bounds across the icy driveway or down a steep slope–while here’s me, creeping and tottering, visions of casts and crutches just one misstep away. Feets, don’t fail me now! From foot-washing in the Bible (19 mentions) to foot-binding in China, feet are a human obsession.It’s a safe bet that animals don’t obsess about or even think about their feet the way human animals do. But their feet carry them through life, too–however natural and satisfying or short and tormented those lives might be.

Forty-some Days

Google images

It was a photo–a pile of chicken feet in a slaughterhouse–that prompted an instantaneous, automatic association–the piles of shoes at Nazi death camps. It created an agitation that has lasted for days. Chicken feet–$400/U.S. per metric ton, “no broken bones, no bad smell.”

No bad smell. I think about the accounts I’ve read of conditions in factory farms where “broiler” chicks are raised for meat.


For the 42-45 days they are required to live and suffer before they end up in buckets, nuggets, Buffalo sauce and franks, broiler chicks stand in their own waste. Blinded by fumes and suffering respiratory ailments, they are also scalded by ammonia on body and feet. Oh yes, and those feet? Snacks and delicacies in China–a major U.S. trade partner.

Yankee ingenuity being what it is, though, burns on feet don’t need to cut into profits: “By removing blemishes on the paws caused by ammonia buildup, this new, value-enhancing trimming application creates an important opportunity for optimizing profits on an otherwise basic, low-margin product.”

Despair–I feel despair. Not for the chicks whose suffering has ended, not even so much for the hundreds of millions already taking their place, but for my own species. Despair that a species whose precious feet carry us through life and into the sun can’t conceive, won’t acknowledge, or (the horror!) simply don’t care that our fellow sentient animals, given the choice, would also choose walking in the sun over standing immobile in caustic ammonia for 40-some days, the entire span of their painful, unnatural lives. Rather than tearing down the factory farms and removing the suffering, we find a way to remove the “blemishes” and optimize profits. Where, oh where is our humanity?

Go ahead, view the 49-second video, then tell me you don’t feel like you’ve peered into the heart of darkness.

This post also appears at animal law blog, Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

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