Cooped up, freaked out.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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