Egg ethics

The kids often come home from church with some kind of souvenir: a bookmark (we must have 57 of them floating around), a picture, a scripture card, etc. Last week, my tweenage son brought home a half-carton of chicken eggs.

“My teachers brought some of their chickens to class,” he said. (Yes, live ones. This couple raises hens and roosters in their backyard.)

“What the heck for?” I asked.

“You know–‘I will gather you as a hen gathereth her chicks.'”

Talk about object lessons.

My son was excited to show off his bounty, especially to his older sister, who is his willing partner in a perpetual game of one-upmanship. We all gathered around for a look. Three of the eggs looked just like the ones we get from the grocery store. The other three were much smaller, and ivory-colored.

“These three are fertilized!” he announced. “If we keep them warm for 29 days the baby chicks will hatch.”

And that’s when the drama began.

Daughter: What are you going to do with them?

Son: Eat them, I guess.

Daughter: You can’t eat the fertilized ones. That would be like eating a half-formed chick! That’s DISGUSTING!

Son: (looking slightly disgusted) Could we let them hatch?

Me: No way.

Son: Yeah, we don’t have an incubator.

Daughter: We could keep them warm with a light bulb.

Me: We don’t have food for the chicks, or a place for them to live. (Or, I might add, any parental desire to care for any more living things.)

Daughter: But we need to take care of them!

Son: (frustrated that she’s foiling him) But they’re not alive.

Daughter: But they COULD BE! If you throw them away, that would be like ABORTION!

Me: Honey, they haven’t started growing yet. It’s better to not let them begin growing than to hatch them and not take care of them.

Son: Yeah, they’re JUST EGGS.

Daughter: (Crying) You are being CRUEL TO ANIMALS!

Me: Go to your room.

The eggs await their destiny on the refrigerator shelf. Right next to the rotisserie chicken we’re eating for dinner.


  1. This is why it doesn’t pay to be close to nature.

  2. Kevin Barney says:


  3. John Scherer says:


    If there’s not already a rule in the handbook against sending potentially living things home with primary children there should be!

  4. At a ward Halloween party when I was a kid, they gave away goldfish for one of the game prizes. We (of course) thought it was awesome, my parents probably did not.
    As for ethics, I stole my sister’s idea for letting our kids “earn” pets. First, they get a fish, if they can keep that alive they are allowed to move to the next pet level. I knew when I bought those fish that they had no chance. I sentenced them to death. I still feel a little bit guilty about it (but not so guilty that I wouldn’t do it again).

  5. A friend let her sons keep some eggs in a lukewarm oven until a couple chicks hatched and then died. Then she decided it wasn’t really cool… but these were suburban boys.

    Anyhow, her sons got a wonderful object lesson about life and its sanctity when they talked about that. Look at D&C 59:15-20, especially 20.

  6. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    velska, that’s a very sad yet very telling object lesson for those of us who do a lot of soapboxing about protecting eggs but don’t have much to say about caring for the resulting chicks.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    no heads-up from the teacher that this was coming?

  8. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    not a word. Forced surrogacy!

    “every egg a wanted egg”

  9. What a cool object lesson.

    I was soooo like your daughter when I was a kid.

  10. Your daughter’s logic is flawless: it is DISGUSTING, it is ABORTION, it is CRUEL TO ANIMALS.

    But is it wrong?

    Why is it wrong to torture a dog? It obviously is degrading to us and inures us to violence that we might direct towards humans. But beyond that, why are dogs morally superior to plants? We own dogs. We may legally put them down if we are bored with them. Christians believe that dogs do not have a soul, were not saved by Christ, and have no afterlife. There is no (?) scripture commanding us to be good to animals (save to be good stewards, presumably for our own future needs). Animals do not go to heaven.

    Yet we very clearly see that dogs are sentient. They (apparently) miss you when you are gone, (very apparently) feel physical pain, (seem to) feel mental anguish when lonely, and smile when (we in their place would be) happy. They discriminate in their loyalty and willingness to sacrifice their own life to save another’s, an experimentally verifiable fact.

    We have a strong cognitive dissonance on the intrinsic essence and worth of animals, arbitrarily distinguishing in worth between dogs and pigs, whales and octopus. The gift of a child is to see this disconnect clearly.

    I recommend that you watch Bicentennial Man with your children, and be prepared to explain to them why Robin Williams the Robot has any more right to life (or to marry!) than that chick whose life you about to terminate.

    Then let me know. I still don’t know the answer to this question.

  11. Dan I have very strong disagreements with your first paragraph. I’m certain now that dogs have souls. I’m not at all sure about anyone who would torture a dog or other animal that senses pain.

  12. It’s time for a family home evening lesson about the beauty and wonder of omelettes.

  13. I’m pretty sure that we, as Mormons, do believe in the salvation of animals.

    “Says one, “I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.” Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God.”
    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 291-92

    I’m not sure how that fits with our acceptance of non-vegetarian diets and killing pesky house spiders, but there you have it.

  14. “We own dogs.”

    Depends on where you live. You are legally only ‘stewards’ of dogs, cats, and any other animals in San Francisco and a few other places.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    That dogs and cats are sentient is a debatable conclusion, Dan, one that hinges greatly on what defining characteristics you are picking for sentience. I learned this from ST: TNG.

  16. That story is hilarious!

    Next you’ll ask her why she’s willing to each a grown chicken but not a fertilized egg, and then you’ll be dealing with a vegetarian in your family. And who’s to say she’s not right? only in times of famine and all that.

    Me? Chickens are delicious.

  17. Left Field says:

    Popcorn is also abortion and disgusting.

  18. I’m pretty sure that we, as Mormons, do believe in the salvation of animals.

    But is the nature of that salvation the same as it is for humans–i.e., that we seek salvation from sin? Are dogs able to sin? If so, do they sin before they reach the age of accountability (8 years old)? In dog years or human years?

  19. esodhiambo says:

    I thought it was risky when a nursery worker brought in a litter of puppies to play with!

    No animals at Church, please. Except service animals. And humans.

  20. All dogs go to heaven. Where have you people been? The Rainbow Bridge and all that? They go to the Rainbow Bridge because they have fulfilled the measure of their creation by looking cute and snuggling us.

    We had the egg dilemma when we had more fertilized eggs than would fit in the incubator this summer. It felt very wrong throwing them away, but we’d gotten them in the mail. I wasn’t going to eat them. Ew.

  21. Kathy, what a dilemma!

    Back in 1900 being kind to animals was made explicit in the Church. A day was set aside to promote kindness to animals. Quoting George Q. Cannon:

    “Sunday, February 25, is the day assigned for special instruction in our Sabbath Schools upon the subject of kindness to animals. There years ago the Deseret Sunday School Union Board appointed the last Sunday in February of each year to be observed as “Humane Day.’ The desire was and is that on this particular day lessons concerning the proper treatment of living creatures should be impressed upon the minds of the children. . . . We earnestly recommend that this year ‘Humane Day’ be generally and appropriately observed, and that superintendents and teacher put forth special efforts to have the lessons on kindness and humanity made as impressive and interesting as possible” From The Juvenile Instructor 35:124, Feb. 15, 1900.” Quoted in Stratton R. D. 2004 Kindness to Animals and Caring for the Earth)

    That last line I thought was a lesson we could also use today :) .

  22. Scott,
    Are you trying to tell me this isn’t real? Killjoy.

  23. According to my understanding, I would consider myself to be something of an animist, I suppose. All things were created spiritually first (Moses 3), and that, to me, implies that all things have a “soul” or whatever you want to call it.

    Do all animals have souls? I would say absolutely yes. Are all animals sentient? Hmm. Tougher question once one moves into the microscopic world in particular. Should we treat animals as if they were human? Can animals sin? Are they judged by the laws given to us or by laws applicable only to them? Deep thoughts for a Friday night.

    I will say, without reservation, however, that animals ought to be treated humanely. I disapprove of cruelty, no matter which kind of people it is aimed at (two legged, four legged, or otherwise).

  24. That’s hilarious. When I was a kid we discovered a duck egg on the bank of the Jordan river. We took it home and set up a make-shift incubator with a light bulb. The embryo was growing for a while, but apparently got too hot or too cold at some point and died. Maybe a month after we started to incubate the egg, my dad declared it dead and we had a small funeral for the egg. My dad’s eulogy went,

    “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; this is one egg we’d better not bust.”

    Hatching eggs is harder than it sounds. Tell your daughter to enjoy the omelet.

  25. I love the object lesson of bringing them in…but I can’t imagine leaving the children with potential life in an egg carton-to their unsuspecting parents who are now doomed to be the murderers.

    I would have taken them back to the couple, thanked them for the lesson and asked if my children could visit the chicks later.

  26. she’s willing to eat a grown chicken but not a fertilized egg

    Oh, the irony!

  27. We had this one cow when I was an adoloscent that I’m quite certain has been condemned to Outer Darkness.

  28. Bruce Rogers says:

    Check with your bishop or counselor. I believe that there is a rule in the handbook that advises against bringing anything to class except the materials designated in the lesson to be obtained from the library. Our library once had a variety of outsite materials, which they disposed of, since only authorized church materials were allowed.

  29. security breach
    security breach
    unauthorized chickens in sector 3-alpha

  30. StillConfused says:

    Too funny. I would do a native american ritual thanking the egg for giving itself to you for nourishment. Search it up and do it right. Daughter may like that

  31. I really like the native american ritual idea. I always wanted to do stuff like that back when I ate meat, but never felt I’d actually known the animal well enough. I still think if I start eating meat again I’d prefer it was meat I’d met face to face before it died, and could thank for it’s sacrifice, however unwilling.
    The problem with hardcore animism, though, is that it has no end. If everything has spirits, do rocks, too? Does it hurt the rocks to break them and shape them into houses, structures, etc.
    I try to think of myself as a practical animist. Anything alive deserves to be treated with respect, but made use of, both in life and death. I’m an organ donor, for example.
    So if you can show the unborn chicken respect, somehow, before making use of it (probably eating), that would seem to be the thing that best builds you and it up, while still being practical.
    Sometimes hard to explain to kids, though.

  32. The possibility of incubating with eventual success is negated after the eggs have been refrigerated. Bon apetit!

  33. That teacher was creative but I think out of line.

    I’m in the ‘I don’t need any more living things to care for’ boat.

    I had a recent experience like this only with a stray cat in the neighborhood. I had no sympathy whatsoever for the creature, shooing it away mercilessly. My 8-year-old looked at me with her big, blue eyes and told me she felt uncomfortable when I did that, because she loves animals.

    My neighbor had much more charitable thoughts in her mind when she called animal control. She actually cared about its well-being, where I was more about just getting it out of the way.

    That said, with the eggs, I can’t say I wouldn’t have been tempted to let them try to incubate with the agreement that they would go directly to the pet store (provided the pet store would take them), or to the friends who already have chickens. (The chance that they would have died before hatching is probably pretty high anyway, right?)

  34. A jewelry store in town changes their sign out front to put up different funny/pithy quotes. One was:

    “Chickens: The only animal we eat before it’s born and after it’s dead.”

    That one definitely made me think! But I don’t think it enticed me to stop in and pick up a diamond necklace from them.

  35. I always thought animals were “saved” from the first death (death of the body) but weren’t subject to death of the spirit. Not so much a question of sentience, but a lack of agency all together. Animals are subject to the fall only in that they are mortal. Not sure where that came from, though…

    At any rate, I would probably not eat the fertilized eggs, the thought of it just grosses me out too much, logical or not…

  36. Sentient Dogs? Have any of you read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

  37. Glenn Smith says:

    Sentient is defined as “having the power of perception by the senses” {}. I would like to introduce any doubters of animal sentience to a few cows, horses, goats, etc. as well as a jump-in-your-lap, bowl-the-grandkids-over-with-love golden retriever. Even a crocodile perceives via the senses – sight, sound, touch, etc. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest even within its realm, an amoeba probably is sentient to its senses. One just needs to observe animals long enough to see the senses at work.

    God made animals for the use of man for food, clothing, etc. but He is displeased if we waste. See Animals in Encyclopedia of Mormonism with scripture ref’s ; Spencer W Kimball, Ensign, Nov 1978 {highly recommend reading this}

    This scripture is supportive:
    18 And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
    19 For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.

  38. Glenn Smith says:

    My last post digressed somewhat from the original topic. To respond, I would try to hatch the eggs because I am able to care for the chicks.

    My Home Ec/FCCLA/culinary arts teaching wife shudders when the idea of eating fertilized eggs is discussed. She prefers her eggs graded and candled.

    You may like to read “Creativity in the Classroom” Liahona, Apr 1978. An excerpt:
    “”Take the case of Brother Arvin, for instance. He was young, scarcely out of college. He was a mild-mannered and happy-go-lucky sort of fellow and was never known to have been very serious about anything before; in fact, he was considered to be the community jokester. It is little wonder that the Sunday School superintendency was a bit nervous about his first teaching assignment. Would he use his classroom to act like a stand-up comic and waste the precious and valuable time of his students? Would he study his lesson manual and be prepared to teach the precepts contained therein?

    The fears of the superintendency seemed to be well-founded when Brother Arvin appeared for his first lesson with two large suitcases in tow. From past experience, they knew these leather-covered boxes could have contained anything from crumpled newspapers to a live snake.””

    I like unusual teaching aids and methods that bring doctrine and principles alive and interesting. Yet, in this day of flues, allergies, etc, we do need some restraint. I probably wouldn’t bring chickens into class; chicks, maybe.

  39. Glenn Smith says:

    Oops. Re Post # 37 The scripture reference is D&C 49: 18, 19

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