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Cooped up, freaked out

June 17th, 2017

Guest blogger Danielle Hart gives an insider’s view on what it was like to participate in SAFE’s anti-factory farming ‘Caged Being’ social experiment – June 2017. Danielle says animal welfare  is something that she has always felt passionate about, since she was a  kid, and she believes they have as much right to be here on the planet  as we do (without exploitation!).

None of us really knew what to expect going into this experiment. 40  people, for 40 hours, confined to a cage. How hard could it be? Well as  it turned out, pretty tough.

It started on a high note, on the Friday, with drinks, nibbles, live  music and a buzzy crowd. Friends and family had come to see us off into  our confinement. It was smiles and laughter all round. Personally  however, I was starting to feel a little nervous. My original perception  of being able to spend this time in the cage quietly reading, or  listening to music and podcasts on my phone (a leisurely, comfortable  protest!) had been thwarted. We’d found out a few days before that the  only thing we could take in with us was a toothbrush. No pillows, no  blankets, no books, tablets or phones. Which made sense of course.  Factory farmed animals don’t have devices, comforts, props or  distractions to make their lives easier, so why should we.

Anyway, 10pm rolls around, and we officially entered the cage. I  don’t think anyone got much sleep that first night. The noise level was  insane (traffic outside, cage-mates inside), and by the time that waned  (around 2am) the realities of lying on a cold, hard, concrete floor had  kicked in. So, puffy-eyed, sleep deprived and aching, we all rose to  face the next day. And man was it long. Time has a way of bending and  stretching when you have nothing (and I mean nothing) to do.

A low point was around 6pm Saturday, when it felt like we’d been in  there for weeks, and we were actually only half way through (20 hours  into it). Of course us ‘caged beings’ tried to make the best of a hard  situation. We chatted. We bonded. We stared at the world outside. We  made an attempt at group yoga, and played some basic games. Meanwhile  our ‘captors’ did their best to be badass. They looped a loud, strange,  fuzzy crowd recording through the speakers. They blasted sirens at  mealtimes. They fed us a restricted diet of ‘muesli’ (raw oats with a  few raisins floating around; truly blech) for breakfast, lunch and  dinner. They wouldn’t let us out to go to the toilet, except at  specified times. They corralled us into an ever-decreasing space, taping  off parts of the cage so we had to huddle. They got us to stand for  long periods in silence, and twice, made us sit in front of a big screen  TV, which was showing film footage of factory farmed animals.

Everything I took in my stride (it was a bit of a ‘show’ after all – a  ‘spectacle’ to raise awareness), except for the film footage. They said  it was because they wanted us to quiet down. Be sombre. To think about  what the animals go through, and really reflect on why we were in the  cage. Well, for me, even the thought of any creature suffering under  inhumane, factory-farmed conditions has always been abhorrent. Being  confronted with the visual was too much to bear. I turned my back to the  screen, and held back the tears. I was upset, tired, and more than a  little bit pissed off. “We know about this!” I thought. “We already  care, and feel it deeply. We’re not the ones that need to see this. This  is NOT what I signed up for.” And then it really hit me. None of the  poor chickens or pigs signed up for their lot either. They’re all at the  mercy of others, and have had their choices, rights and freedoms  stripped away. I thought I knew all this before (and I did, in theory),  but at that moment I really FELT it. What it was like to be caged. So anyway, I guess that was the eye-opener, and a turning point for me.

The last stretch (late Saturday night / Sunday through to 2pm), the  pressure eased off a bit. Overall there was very little drama from the  group. No one went ape. No one lost the plot. Only a few participants  had to ‘squeeze the pig’ (i.e. leave early), and they did it quietly,  sensibly, and for good reason.

I suspect, on the whole, we were slightly boring to watch on the live  stream. But that’s probably because most of what was going on was  subtle and internal. I can’t speak for my fellow cage mates, but  listening to them talk about their feelings and experiences as the  40-hour stretch was coming to a close, I think we’d all reached similar  conclusions. Yes, it was hard being in the cage (harder than it looked).  But we’d sailed into the experience willingly, knowing that it was for  40 hours only, knowing that we could tough it out, because there was  always that light at the end of the tunnel – 2pm Sunday, when we would  be set free, and could return our nice, comfy lives.

Factory farmed pigs and chickens do not have the luxury of their  confinement ending so soon, of course. For them there is no endpoint,  other than death. They’re treated as objects, not living, breathing,  sentient beings. Their short lives are miserable, and their suffering is  relentless. This is the reality; it’s happening now. Behind all that  tidy packaging at the supermarket there’s a true horror story playing  out, and this is a message that everyone needs to hear. I do hope that  this experiment has gone some way towards raising awareness, shifting  perception, instigating change.

BIG thanks to Amanda and everyone at SAFE, and Yoson and Luke at  MANIFEST, for coming up with the Caged Being concept, for choosing me as  a volunteer, for playing the part of the ‘bad guys’ (not all that  convincing sorry! you’re too gorgeous), for seeing the whole thing  through and for your dedication and commitment to being a voice for the  animals. Thanks too, to my fellow caged beings – that could’ve gotten  really weird but it didn’t because you were all so cool.

Visit SAFE’s website to learn more about factory farming, and to take action to help animals.

Photos by Tamara Josephine Photography.

 

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