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‘Hell on Wheels’ campaign disrupts lunchtime

Written by on Saturday, January 20, 2024

PETA urges restaurant patrons to save chickens, go vegan.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Jan. 19, 2024

Host: The “Hell on Wheels” truck was making its rounds through downtown Sarasota yesterday noon, annoying the lunch crowd and at least one restaurant manager with earsplitting noise from a loudspeaker. What’s behind it? Our news team followed the noise.

Johannes Werner: It was high noon in downtown Sarasota on a drizzly, gray Thursday. Two Sarasota Police Department patrol cars rolled up and down State Street, and two bike cops were on standby, guarding the sidewalk in front of Brick’s Smoked Meat. A restaurant manager paced the sidewalk, making phone call after phone call. A lonely TV news camera man was waiting across the street. Other than that, just the usual lunch crowd.

PETA urges people to go vegan.

And then it arrived. You could hear it even before you saw it.

[Tortured chickens on loudspeaker]

The Ford box truck turned from Orange into State and slowly rolled up the street towards the restaurant. The front of the truck box was adorned with a logo depicting a gourmet cook, and cursive letters spelling “Hell on Wheels Chicken Company”. Both sides and the rear were completely covered with a photo of crammed chicken cages. The driver stopped briefly, allowing to read the letters on the side: “Does this bother you? Go vegan!” … and then it went on, turned into Lemon and disappeared, to the dismay of the cameraman.

Meet PETA’s “Hell on Wheels” campaign, trying to mobilize public opinion against industrial chicken breeding. Since 2022, the truck has visited some 50 cities throughout the United States, trying to make people aware of the hell the birds go through during transportation and the last minutes of their lives in the slaughterhouse.

According to PETA, chickens are slammed into small crates and trucked to slaughterhouses through all weather extremes. Hundreds of millions sustain broken wings and legs from rough handling, and millions die from the stress of the journey. At slaughterhouses, their legs are forced into shackles, their throats are cut, and they’re immersed in scalding-hot water to remove their feathers. Almost all chickens are still conscious when their throats are cut, and many are literally scalded to death in feather-removal tanks after missing the throat cutter.

The National Chicken Council maintains animal welfare standards. The chapters about transportation and slaughter in that document spell out that some of these abuses must be avoided. Some of them are in bold letters.

In a press release, PETA Vice President Tracy Reiman said this: “Behind every barbecued wing or bucket of fried chicken is a once-living, sensitive individual who was crammed onto a truck for a terrifying, miserable journey to their death. PETA’s ‘Hell on Wheels’ truck is an appeal to anyone who eats chicken to remember that the meat industry is cruel to birds, and the only kind meal is a vegan one.”

Sky Mortan

In Sarasota, the Hell on Wheels truck came back a few minutes later. And again. On the third loop, the truck stopped, and the driver emerged. Sky Mortan explained how the PETA guerilla marketing campaign works.

Sky Mortan: We use the chicken truck, we call it the ‘Hell on Wheels’ chicken truck. It’s on tour right now. I’m on tour all over Florida. I’m going to all the major cities in Florida but it has visited many, many markets all over America. Our targets have to serve chicken. I mean, the whole point of it is to try to get people to think for just one moment about the 10 billion chickens that we kill in America every year, and the tortures that they endure, and think for a second about that. So our targets are either chicken-exclusive restaurants, or restaurants that have a predominantly chicken-based menu. Also to city centers, where we expect a lot of people to be, because of course we’re trying to raise awareness and we need that net to be cast as wide as possible.

JW: Asked why the focus is on transportation of chickens, Mortan said that much of the abuse happens in hatcheries and industrial farms, but when they are being shipped, the walls come off.

SM: It’s a stark reminder of what these animals endure. Of course, they all come from hatcheries and factory farms. Ninety percent of them come from factories, from hatcheries, where baby boy chickens, on their first or second day after birth, they just grind them up and throw them in the garbage, because they don’t use them in that industry.

JW: The ultimate goal is to convince people to go vegan.

SM: Of course! I mean, the only cruelty-free meal is a vegan meal. The only ethical meal is a vegan meal, and you get to vote three times a day with what you eat — whether you’re voting for cruelty and pain and torture, whether you are more peaceful world.

JW: PETA offers a vegan starter kit on their website.

Mortan went on that afternoon to harass Knick’s Tavern & Grill, Hot Chickn Kitchn, Popeyes, Fork & Hen SRQ, PDQ, Slim Chickens, Basil’s Flame Broiled Chicken & Ribs, and Chick-fil-A. After stops in the Tampa Bay region, the truck is now headed to Fort Myers, Naples, Key West, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and then back up to north Florida.

No local animal rights activists were on site in Sarasota. The Brick’s restaurant manager declined to give her name, or answer questions, and said her company would send a press release to WSLR News. We have not received any as of deadline.

There were no passersby on this rainy day to ask questions, and the PETA leaflets remained in the truck cabin. A customer in a sidewalk café next to Bricks signaled to the driver to shut off the noise. Max Walters, who emerged from a store across the street, was confused.

Max Walters: The advertising was actually confusing because it says, if you don’t like this then should go vegan. But then, the chicken truck makes it looks like they’re sponsoring actually murdering chickens.

JW: For more information, go to peta.org

This is Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.