Do chickens make you look poor? August 30, 2013
This week, the “Listen Lissa” chicken advice column got a few queries about the “news” story regarding the weirdest argument against backyard chickens, yet: chickens make you look poor. Wait, what?
It’s true: apparently there is a subset of people who believe that you should not keep chickens because “chickens make you look poor.” Wowza. I think people who make this “argument” must be the outer fringe of the false “reduced property values” argument, which we’ve debunked before. Even so, I feel as if I have to take issue with “chickens make you look poor” for two reasons:
1. Firstly, saying chickens make you look poor is patently untrue. There are some amazing, high end chicken coops out there. Chickens are often kept by very wealthy people in exclusive neighborhoods. Martha Stewart keeps chickens. Jennifer Anniston keeps chickens. And whatever your opinion of those individuals may be, I don’t think you can reasonably claim that they look poor because they keep chickens. Chickens are kept by people who are well-off… and also by poor and middle class people. How this could be a surprise is sort of beyond me. Sometimes chickens may make you look sort of like a Tolkien geek:
Or they may make you look as if you have a great sense of style:
Some coops may not be immediately distinguishable from dog houses, until you happen to notice it’s being used by chickens!
Even a coop that houses more than a few hens can be beautiful and add to your home’s curb appeal:
Clearly, pet chickens are no more an indicator of wealth than pet dogs are. Granted, if you’re not wealthy, you’re not going to have that $100,000 luxury chicken coop from Neiman-Marcus in your backyard. But you’re also not going to have the $30,000 “hacienda” dog house in your backyard, either. Does having dogs make you look poor? Maybe. If you keep them in squallor. The same thing goes for chickens: the bottom line is that chickens can be lovely whether you spend tens of thousands of dollars on them or next to nothing. They won’t make you look richer OR poorer than you are. Keeping pet chickens is not going to change your neighborhood any more than keeping cats or dogs will. What does matter is whether the people who keep chickens (or dogs or cats) are good, conscientious caretakers.That brings us to issue number two I have with the “chickens make you look poor” business.
2. Making an objection to keeping chickens on the basis that “chickens make you look poor” assumes the implicit premise that “poor” is an insult. While I can say with reasonable certainty that few people actively aspire to poverty for obvious reasons, wealth is just not a circumstance individuals have absolute control over. Some people are born with wealth, and others without—and socioeconomic mobility is actually relatively low in the US, when compared with Canada and Western Europe. Remember, being financially disadvantaged just means you don’t have much money. It doesn’t mean you don’t have taste or that you’re some sort of villain.
Ugliness and evil are not concentrated in the poor. Wealthy people can be jerks just like poor people can; in fact, study after study shows that people with less wealth are statistically nicer. As one researcher put it, ”lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.” So to use “poor” as an insult just rankles me, since people who are economically disadvantages are usually more likely to be, well, nicer and more compassionate. And compassion is an important quality to possess when caring for animals.
For instance, living in a $2.4 million dollar home didn’t magically shelter the dogs and cats of the Tamis family from animal cruelty. Frank Saracino, deputy chief of law enforcement for the animal cruelty task force that investigated the Tamis case explained that “… animal cruelty is everywhere. It can be in a small house in the inner city or a 12,000-square-foot mansion out here. It’s everywhere.” Likewise, deplorable taste can exist in any economic circumstance, and is subjective in any case.
Is this billion dollar home beautiful or terrible? Is this tiny cottage belonging to chicken keepers a nightmare or a dream come true? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. If you have lots of money or very little, you can spend it as you like.
Does this glorious August sunrise indicate whether our West Virginia farm is rich or poor?
Does a laundry line make you look poor, or frugal and resourceful?
What about home canning? Poor, or “lawsie, that looks yummy”?
So… do chickens make you look poor?
I can’t say for sure. I certainly lean to “no”… but I guess it all depends on your perspective. If you’re not especially informed, or if you have skewed values, your gut answer might be “yes.” One thing I do know: even if I were to hit the lottery, I’d be hanging laundry and keeping chickens. And I certainly wouldn’t be worried that “chickens make you look poor.”