Satya has ceased publication. This website is maintained for informational purposes only.
All contents are copyrighted.
Click here to learn about reprinting text or images that appear on this site.

back issues


June/July 2007
Every Chicken’s Hero
The Satya Interview with Christine Morrissey


Christine Morrissey and friend.
Photo by Noah Hannibal/Animal Liberation Victoria

Compassionate, witty and a bit…well, unexpected are three adjectives one can easily use to describe Christine Morrissey, founder and director of East Bay Animal Advocates. From undercover investigations to community and corporate outreach, Christine successfully takes California’s agricultural industry by storm. As one of only a few organizations that has conducted open rescues, EBAA is committed to saving the lives of neglected animals left sick and dying in factory farms. To date, Morrissey has saved the lives of over 100 turkeys, chickens and rabbits. From its base in Oakland, the EBAA team also documents the industry practices and living conditions of the animals and exposes them to the media.

What keeps her sane? Well, hip hop music, MySpace profiling and good beer, of course. Kymberlie Adams Matthews had the opportunity to have a slightly off-kilter conversation with “every chicken’s hero,” Christine Morrissey.

I heard a rumor that you worked at the McDonald’s off 580 and Santa Rita in Oakland.

When I turned 14, my dad told me: “Bean, every great career starts at McDonald’s.” With a new worker’s permit in my pocket, I rode my bike up to the Golden Arches and applied for my first job. For four long months, I worked as a cashier, food server and bathroom cleaner. I would eat as many McChicken sandwiches I could get my hands on and gained a lot of weight. But you could always count on me having a smile on my face and Ronald McDonald black visor on my big-ass head. One piece of advice: always be kind to the people who work on the frontlines of the fast food industry, or you will be sorry. [Laughter.] Actually, I learned a good lesson at McDonald’s—hard work pays off.

Then after I quit, I started volunteering at an animal shelter. I put my fast food cleaning skills to good work at the Valley Humane Society. I love how every experience in life—even the most menial—prepares you for the future.

Was working at the shelter when you first became interested in animal issues?
Actually, my interest in animals started in a freaky way. When I was three or four, my parents bought me a stuffed animal, a dolphin from Sea World. I named the dolphin DiDi. God, I loved that damn thing. We were inseparable. One day, DiDi disappeared—gone without a trace. My life never returned to normal. To this day, I search for her. [Laughter.] All kidding aside, watching investigative footage of animal abuse captured my interest for animal advocacy.

How did you come to see that type of footage?
I was on a road trip to the Grand Canyon with my parents. One night, I was watching television in the hotel. I turned channels and this documentary called To Love or Kill: Man vs. Animal came on. Well, I never saw such horrible acts of cruelty before. I had my last turkey dinner shortly thereafter.

It’s funny, you were inspired by investigative footage, and now you have a collection of your own investigations. Tell us about East Bay Animal Advocates.
Well, we’re a tiny grassroots outfit—almost exclusively powered by women volunteers. Our principle focus is California animal agriculture, which is the largest system of its kind in the world! We have been tackling a number of unacceptable industry practices through consumer education, corporate outreach, direct aid and litigation. Little by little, we are making strides—and having fun!

And how did the organization begin?
At the beginning of 2003, I put a silly to-do list together. One of the items on the list was to ‘start an organization.’ Whatever that means. In May of that year, Circus Gatti came to Livermore with their elephant act. At the time, I was organizing demonstrations and outreach on an ad hoc basis, without organizational backing.

Before Gatti’s arrival, I sent out a press release to the local newspaper about the circus operator’s poor animal welfare record and plans for an opening night event demonstration. The newspaper wound up running a really good story about the demonstration before the event. That actually turned out to be a good recruitment tool to start a group.

Livermore is a rodeo town, so I didn’t expect many protesters to show. I was right. Not many folks came, only five of us. But, everyone was interested in starting up a local group. It became the jump-off for EBAA.

Tell us about some of your most successful campaigns.
Our most successful effort, thus far, has been something quite simple—giving consumers facts. I am a strong believer in giving people the plain old facts to help them make choices. When consumers are informed, they tend to make animal-friendly purchases at supermarkets or restaurants all on their own.

EBAA currently operates six sister websites, which were formed after we completed an investigative project. Some of the sites are focused on common industry practices with a California-twist, while others are California company-specific, like our website about Foster Farms.

The internet is the important information source for more and more people. It’s a great way of bypassing the million-dollar marketing campaigns of big producers in the meat, egg and dairy industries. I love free speech and the internet. [Laughter.]

Tell us about the Foster Farms campaign.
Foster Farms is the largest poultry producer in the western United States. On a weekly basis, the company slaughters five million chickens for food. EBAA has investigated the company’s practices for the last few years. The evidence gathered speaks for itself. Foster Farms really needs to raise the bar in terms of its level of care of animals. Raising deformed and diseased birds for food is not a sound business practice.

No, it’s not. How did they react when you went public with your investigation?
[Chuckles.] They sure weren’t happy. They have actually threatened to sue EBAA twice but we are a lucky duck, with an absolutely wonderful attorney representing us. With boundless legal wisdom, Vicki Steiner is the reason why Foster Farm’s legal huffing-and-puffing have not come to fruition as lawsuits. Vicki kicks ass.

Can you talk about the effectiveness of open rescues and investigations?
Open rescue work is an extremely effective way of directly protecting animals and educating the public about animal cruelty in agriculture. Over the course of EBAA’s investigative projects, over 100 animals have found their ways out of factory farms.

Switching gears a bit, is it true that Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and journalism professor) is using some of EBAA’s research in his class?
Last year, I hunted Michael Pollan down for a meet-and-greet, after some kind pushing from some ladies in New York City. He lives in Berkeley; I live next-door in Oakland. He writes about animal agriculture; I am obsessed with animal agriculture. What a good match for a chat.

I was interested in talking with him about his visit to Petaluma Farms, a local poultry producer. We finally met for a short time in February. Muckraking was the hot topic of the discussion. He was interested in learning more about intensive husbandry practices used in California and sharing EBAA’s investigative footage with his class. Go, Pollan!

Speaking of teaching classes, you have recently returned to school to study animal agriculture. You are actually taking classes with the future factory farmers of America! Weird.
I have a new slogan: “Shut up and learn.” So earlier this year, I started studying animal science. Over the last few years, I have spent quite a bit of time critiquing and documenting industry practices, but I felt I was only getting an outsider’s view on modern agriculture. So I took off my Nancy Drew hat and hit the books. After completing my first semester, I have learned how truly uneducated I am about the inter-workings of the poultry industry. I have never learned so much about chickens before. To top it off, my teacher and fellow students are some of the nicest people I have met in a long time. And I do have two confessions…one, I really like country music now. Two, I am not afraid to give a chicken rancher a hug.

Ms. Morrissey, are you selling out on us?
[Laughter.] Who is us? I think it is important to understand the scientific perspective of modern animal agriculture. My goal is to never stop learning. It’s an unconventional approach. I have learned a great deal about helping farm animals in new ways. Is that selling out?

Not at all. Aside from school, what’s next for EBAA?
We have somewhat of a dual campaign underway right now. We are urging Lunardi’s Supermarket, a Bay Area grocery chain, to drop its sale of eggs from caged egg-layers. Also, we are working with a coalition of animal advocates, real estate developers and local residents to stop the expansion of Olivera Foods, which happens to supply Lunardi’s with eggs. Olivera Foods wants to build a 900,000-hen egg farm in the California Central Valley.

Speaking of eggs…You often have a few rescued chickens running around your house...
Rescuing and caring for an injured chicken is a true ‘MasterCard Moment’ for someone who is obsessed with birds—like myself. It’s extraordinary and smelly.

What animals do you currently live with?
My pit bull Dutch is stuck living with me and three nerdy rabbits: April Mae, Josh and Harry. Collectively, we are known as the Party of Five.

Let me ask you this, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?
My one and only superpower request, the ability to brush my hair on a daily basis. Sometimes, my hairdo often looks quite similar to the hairstyle of the Peanuts’ comic strip character, Pigpen.

I’ve heard that you find life principles in hip hop.
People just don’t appreciate rap music these days. But I find a lot of inspiration in the music. Bay Area rapper, E-40, says it best: “Go hard or go home.”

From EBAA campaigns to classes teaching how to profit from chickens…you are confronted with a lot of animal cruelty. How do you cope?
Three simple things: Drink beer, laugh a lot and stay focused. The way animals are treated in today’s intensive agriculture systems will change in the not-too-distant future. That’s my hope; that’s my promise.

For more information visit, www.NoMoreOlivera.comand