With a Chick Chick Here

March 12, Nicholas Kristof made a searing well-reasoned attack in the New York Times on an old enemy: the commodification of the meat we can’t stop eating.  He begins with Christopher Leonard’s new book, “The Meat Racket,” an expose of the atrocities committed by Tyson Foods.  Every week Tyson slaughters 135,000 heads of cattle, 391,000 hogs, and 41,000,000 chickens.  Animals all suffering so that we can eat them on the cheap.  Let me say that again.  41 million battery chickens live in horrible conditions so that they can be  consumed in our homes, in fast-food restaurants, (and in most slow food restaurants), in the work place, in school cafeterias, on airplanes, in hospitals, really anywhere we grab a bite.

We’ve known for too long about the miseries that these chickens endure. Just put into your browser “factory farmed chickens” and wait for the onslaught of images and paragraphs designed with good reason to turn your stomach.  Chickens de-beaked and full of antibiotics are crammed into cages so tightly that they are unable to turn around.   Chickens are tortured so that consumers can buy them for little or no money.  Kristof reminds us that chicken used to be such a luxury that it meant something when Hoover promised his voters that he would put a chicken in every pot.   In today’s currency, the 1930 chicken cost $6.48 a pound. The Tyson chicken costs $1.57 a pound.  That’s why it’s popular.  It’s cheap enough to feed a family that can’t afford to spend more.

If we are able to spend more, we can buy chickens who spend their relatively short lives in relative comfort and dignity.   “Misty Knoll” chicken costs $4.99 a pound.  Misty Knoll Farms assures me that its delectable chickens are free to roam in “spacious, specially designed chicken houses, with access to abundant feed, water and fresh air.”  Every week I buy one whole chicken that costs around $20.  Roasted, it feeds four for one sumptuous meal, and can still leave enough meat for sandwiches the next day, and sometimes enough for a salad the following day with grapes and kale, and red pepper.  Then I make stock from the carcass and its bones and I use that for soup or risotto.  This all takes time for chopping and slicing, but the result is well worth the thirty minutes it take to do this work. Roasting and simmering stock takes another kind of time.   All you need to do is turn the chicken in its roasting pan or watch the stock so it doesn’t simmer away.  Work you can do with relative ease  while you’re doing something else–overseeing a child’s homework, paying bills, or if you’re lucky– reading, writing, or even talking to a friend  The work  honors the chicken, getting every piece of goodness out of its sacrifice.

I am not entirely easy about eating animals.  I knew a few chickens very well when I lived for a time on a farm in the Pocono’s.  I write about these chickens, particularly Henrietta the Rhode Island Red, and the magnificent Brahmin’s, Alexander and Cleopatra, in my memoir, THE ANIMALS.  What surprised me most about these amazing creatures was the sense of humor that the hens exhibited when they played together.

Molly feeding Henrietta and her daughter

Molly feeding Henrietta and her daughter

The hens tended to gang up on the rooster, a magnificent creature who seldom displayed much intelligence.  He seemed too beautiful to do much more than swagger.  Whenever he tried to mate with  the hens, they only laughed at him, bouncing him off their backs with all the flair of dancers doing the rhumba. As if they were all in a cartoon.

Alexander the Brahmin

Alexander the Brahmin

Henrietta ruled the farmyard.  She liked to fly up into the pigsty to visit Wilbur the boar, and Sissy and Jessie, the sows.  Sometimes she stood on their broad backs, making conversation,  her clucking, them grunting.  And she spent hours talking to the mallard ducks.

When you know animals like Henrietta, it’s almost impossible to eat a chicken without knowing its history.  Was its beak torn off, was it filled with antibiotics?  Was it ever free enough to tell a joke to a fellow chicken?

One way to solve animal guilt is to become a vegetarian or vegan.  Sometimes I try doing that, but I always seem to end up going back to chicken and fish, and once in a blue moon I find myself sucking on the bone of an enormous porterhouse steak.  But even when I do eat animals, I only consume creatures certified to be raised or caught ethically.  When I go out to a restaurant, I don’t eat meat or fish unless it comes with guarantees about its provenance.   Farmed fish only tells one more version of the same horror story.  Once I sat on a pier in Scotland waiting for a ferry and watched salmon leaping fruitlessly for forty-five minutes trying to jump out of their circular prison.  They kept banging into each other over and over again in their desperate and futile attempts to escape.  Put me right off farmed salmon.

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6 comments to With a Chick Chick Here

  1. ellen says:

    So troubling. I get even more upset about pigs, which, apparently, are kept so tightly packed that they bite one another. Still, a meal doesn’t seem to me a meal without chicken or fish.

    • Carol says:

      Well, one way to eat pork with a certain degree of confidence it to get free range pork. Of course the pork costs much more. Same goes for any animal you eat, chicken, beef, even rabbits. I just finished reading Eric Prescott’s blog. He is a Vegan, and comes down hard on eating any animals. And he has a point, a good one. One real problem with not raising animals for food, however, can lead to their disappearance. This is always what they say in Scotland. If you don’t eat the sheep, they won’t be on the land, the the land will be grown over with impenetrable thickets of bracken and weeds etc.
      This would present no small problem although wild sheep might survive a mild winter. Food for thought.

  2. Janet White says:

    I stopped eating veal about 25 years ago when first learning of the deplorable conditions calves endure. I, too, grew up with chickens (and a nasty rooster) and rabbits bred for meat. They all had free roam of the property (as a result 2 “female Easter bunnies” produce over 100 babies in short order. My oldest brother earned many a merit badge tracking their lineage (obviously 1 of the bunnies was really a male!), then learning how to humanely kill and dress. He also earned a nice profit.
    I just hope we can trust that “free range” today really is free range for the other creatures. I find I eat no more than one meat a week and this past year it is usually bison burgers. I hope they are humanely treated … time to GOOGLE.

    Thanks, Carol, for a great blog. Placing under “favorites” so I remember to check in often

    • Carol says:

      Veal, I have almost forgotten that it exists, although now in some restaurants we are assured that the calves we eat are given good treatment. But I still haven’t gone back to veal. I love your rabbit adventure. 100 is not a surprising number. There must be some way for these baby bunnies to grow enough before being taken care of by well meaning kids like your humane brother. Certainly right after Easter Sunday when most of them are having perhaps the best day of their short lives. As I write, there is a bunny in my daughter’s house living in a cage. She is a dwarf rabbit, but has certainly grown over the months she’s been with my granddaughters. I am taking her to the MSPCA to be adopted, since she doesn’t get much stimulation in from her wonderful teen age owners. But they insist that she will be adopted and not “offed.” We are negotiating this. Right now.

  3. Catie says:

    Anna V directed me to your blog and I am so glad that she did. I find comfort in knowing that there is someone else who struggles, as I do, with animal consumption. We try to buy flesh from respectful provenance. But I’d rather commit to being a vegan permanently. But, clearly, my moral fiber is frayed. A sad fact for so many of us.

    • Carol says:

      This is so true. It’s almost impossible to find the great good source of meat. I am lucky to know a wonderful woman who breeds sheep dogs and has a small number of lambs that she sells to friends. These sheep have the perfect life, until, of course they are sacrificed for us to eat. I can say seriously that their life is better than the lives of any sheep I have ever seen in Scotland. But still, I am always thinking about the trip that they make to the butcher. I eat more and more beans to compensate, eking out the lamb in my chili so that I only use a quarter of a pound instead of a pound etc. But still…

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