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Chickens in cages at a conventional production commercial egg farm in Maryland, USA. Photo: Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images
Chickens in cages at a conventional production commercial egg farm in Maryland, USA. Photo: Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

SocietyMarch 6, 2017

Aidee Walker: Why I made a TV ad calling for Countdown to stop selling battery eggs

Chickens in cages at a conventional production commercial egg farm in Maryland, USA. Photo: Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images
Chickens in cages at a conventional production commercial egg farm in Maryland, USA. Photo: Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

The star of a confrontational new television commercial explains why she felt compelled to help save hens from the cruelty of battery cages.

Update: Late last week, in apparent response to the upcoming SAFE ad, Countdown supermarkets announced they will remove battery-caged and colony-caged eggs from their own-brand range by 2022, the same year battery cages will be banned nationwide. They will continue to stock caged eggs from other brands.

Actors tend to do commercials because they pay the bills. In desperate times (of which there can be many) I audition for ads, but I never get them because I’m pretty shit at the special skills of acting in commercials: a look to camera, then a smile (but not too big), then a knowing nod to my imaginary five year old kid off in the corner of the room before taking the basket of washing out of the imaginary lounge. I just simply suck at doing ‘looks’.

But I did get offered a part in a commercial recently. Last year I did an ad with SAFE calling on Countdown to stop selling eggs from hens in cages – cages where hens are squashed together, each with a space the size of an iPad. Most of them don’t live to two years old (when they could naturally live to ten); they get no sunlight and they are so crammed that the sick or injured go unnoticed.

Some live their entire short lives with broken bones. Some simply just die and later they find bits of their dead bodies trampled on by other smothered hens. It’s disgusting and cruel. But somehow we can turn a blind eye and buy trays of these eggs and call it healthy nutrition.

Thankfully SAFE didn’t audition me, it was more like “Aidee, we need an actress for this campaign, here are the details, we have to shoot tomorrow… Oh, you’re busy during the day? All good, we’re actually shooting in the night as we need an empty supermarket.” (No, we didn’t shoot inside a Countdown).

SAFE paid me with a big yellow tube of cruelty free sunscreen and a wonderful opportunity to help a sister out. A bunch of sisters. Our wee hen sisters.

People really do love their eggs. When I was a kid I was too sick to be at school. As my parents were working, my grandparents would pick me up in their Triumph 2000 Mk1 and I’d have two poached eggs on white bread at theirs and everything would be alright. But I was seven years old and I didn’t think for a moment where that yummy yolky goodness came from.

I mean I knew it was from a chicken – but a chicken on a farm in the story books I grew up with. A happy chicken that hung out with a few of her chicken pals, and also with her cow pal and her horse and goat pals. Happy farm pals making cheese and milk and eggs for me. For me! And then when they died (happily) we’d eat them. Yay. Everyone was happy – especially me.

Then I went to high school. In my Year 9 form room I met my first friend and discovered she was a vegetarian. I got really fucked off – I just couldn’t process it. Looking back now I was confused as hell because I had been brought up to believe that vegetarians were malnourished pale, pasty, weirdos in dirty overcoats with bad skin. And probably bad teeth. And definitely thin hair.

Okay, so no one actually told me they looked like that but that was the image I had created in my mind. But this friend was taller than anyone in the class; she was healthy, fit and strong, and had been raised a vegetarian. But I got angry and defensive and I challenged her with all sorts of questions – the same ones I get asked today as a vegetarian myself.

1. But don’t you get hungry? 2. Where do you get your protein? and 3. So what do you eat then?

It turned out that Emma Galloway, that vegetarian girl from Year 9, ate foods I had never heard of and it totally changed my life (and my mum’s who was forced to start buying vegetarian cookbooks to come up with new things to cook for me).

Emma went on to publish two cookbooks and has a very popular blog on vegetarian and gluten-free eating, My Darling Lemon Thyme.

That was the pivotal meeting that made me look at the world, and the way we eat, completely differently. Years later, when SAFE asked me to help persuade Countdown to stop selling caged eggs, I was in. We shot on a Saturday night. I was at a screen symposium weekend and left early to meet the young, tiny but super keen crew and then later my fellow actors. Some rescue hens turned up with a woman who saves and rehabilitates them and suddenly it was pretty real. These hens had been rescued recently so they still looked incredibly sick, emaciated and freaked out. We were all eager to get their shots done so they could go back to their new cage-free life, for however long their lives would be.

Chickens in cages at a conventional production commercial egg farm in Maryland, USA. Photo: Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

I can’t imagine wanting to feed yourself or your family with eggs produced in such atrocious conditions. But these caged eggs are cheaper than free range, so I do understand why people with tight budgets buy them. On film sets it’s often big trays of eggs to feed the masses and sure, I know they could put it in their budget to buy free range. But yes, there is a price difference, right? And how can free range be a priority for families when they’re just scraping by? So what if caged eggs just didn’t exist? Then egg eaters could only eat eggs from free range hens.

Other countries are doing it, Holland and Austria, and almost all German supermarkets (read more about the international progress here). Burger King made the switch recently in New Zealand.

So it can happen. I understand it might take a few years but it can absolutely be done. The prices would be more affordable thanks to the volume and we could all sleep at night – maybe even the hens could, because there would be room to sit down. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it?

Read more about the campaign to end battery egg farming, and to add your voice to the call, at The TV commercial is set to screen from later this month.

*Foodstuffs, the owner of New World, dropped cage-laid eggs from its Pam’s brand in 2008, although it continues to sell them under its other brands.

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