The oft-told chicken-on-Muni story — in which a woman holding a live chicken is prevented from boarding a bus, usually the 30-Stockton in Chinatown, until she wrings its neck to get around the “service-animals-only” rule — is one urban legend that is at least somewhat true. You can buy a live chicken in San Francisco, like the ones Raymond Young Live Poultry sells for $6.50 apiece or two for $11 at the twice-weekly Heart of the City Farmers' Market in Civic Center. And some patrons of the Youngs' stand do take public transportation after making their purchases.
That's not what galls animal-rights activist Andrew Zollman, who has picketed the Youngs every market day since April 2009. A professed vegan, Zollman doesn't like meat and isn't a fan of those who sell it, but he has also documented online what he says is a litany of animal rights abuses perpetrated by the Youngs: birds living in their own feces, birds handled roughly before they're stuffed into plastic or paper bags, and other evidences of a chicken perdition.
“They're pretty clearly in violation of state animal cruelty laws, and the attorneys we've talked to agree,” Zollman says. “It's extremely cruel, and it's going on in the middle of the city.”
While Zollman's activism hasn't halted bird sales, his actions have led the health department to conduct daily inspections — which the market and the Youngs always pass, according to market manager Christine Adams. The department “was here again [on a recent Wednesday], and they said everything was fine,” she says.
“He comes here and he harasses our customers,” said Tina Young, who guesses that the protests — which sometimes include Zollman, camera in hand, following people out of the market — have cut sales almost in half, from 400 to 500 birds a day to around 250.
This is largely because the Youngs can no longer accept food stamps. Thanks to Zollman's involvement, the Human Services Agency has banned the use of food stamps at the poultry stand after Zollman videotaped a homeless couple who bought a bird for a pet, a no-no under the program. Some of their best customers — low-income Chinese speakers, many of whom used food stamps — can no longer shop there, and instead must rely on back-alley shops in Chinatown to provide the live birds they prefer.
“And you know what?” Adams adds. “He says he's vegan, but I've never seen [Zollman] buy so much as a peach.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Youngs had taken Zollman to court and obtained a 20-foot stay-away order. Members of the family sought a restraining order against another animal-rights activist, not Zollman. Records indicate the judge in that case denied the request without prejudice. We regret the error.