On Monday, students were invited to enter a blue tent in the middle of the Plaza of the Americas to learn what it’s like to be a chicken.
“Do you want to become a chicken for two and a half minutes?” energetic women asked passers-by.
Inside, the tent was boiling hot.
“It’s a sauna in here,” said Claudia Lifton, a representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. “But at least we’re not packed in together, having our noses cut off and waiting in our own feces to be killed.”
Peta2, PETA’s youth division, visited UF Monday and will be here today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to feature “I, Chicken,” an exhibit encouraging empathy toward chickens, the most abused animals on the planet, said Peta2 tour administrator Caroline Gardner.
“I, Chicken” is a real-time, virtual reality experience where participants become chickens and engage in natural chicken behaviors before eventually being captured by a farmer. Gardner, 23, said it’s meant to be positive, not graphic or gory.
The exhibit travels around the country and will visit more than 170 college campuses this semester. Participants wear virtual reality headsets and movement markers and are followed by six cameras.
Gardner said “I, Chicken” is an important tool to highlight the 9 billion chickens raised in the country for food every year and the 452 million egg-laying hens kept in tiny cages.
“Chickens are smart and great, and we should love them because they’re people too,” Gardner said. “We just want to remind people that a chicken is a rat is a dog is a boy.”
Chickens are not protected under federal law, she said, so the best thing people can do is not eat animals if they want to help them.
“It is hard to relate to a chicken, and we’re trying to make that easier,” she said. “They are really very complex individuals. They have unique personalities just like the dogs and cats we share our homes with, but the things that happen to them are really monstrous.”
Peta2 works with animal rights groups on campus, and its campus representative, 20-year-old UF public relations junior Christina Bicknell said she thinks “I, Chicken” is a cutting-edge experience.
UF economics sophomore Tobi Olajubu said he was on his way to get lunch when he passed the exhibit.
He said the experience was overwhelming, and he initially expected something different.
“Actually being a chicken changed my whole perspective,” Olajubu, 20, said. “Now, the connection has been made.”
While discussing the experience with representatives, Olajubu said he was in shock.
“What if I was just walking around campus, and someone captured me to eat me just because they were smarter than me?” he said.
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 3/17/2015 under the headline “PETA simulation tries to build student empathy for chickens”]
Kaley Thomas, a 21-year-old UF journalism junior, dons a virtual reality headset Monday afternoon to experience PETA2’s “I, Chicken,” a virtual reality experience in which participants become a chicken that is captured by a farmer.