Monday, February 7, 2011

Sympathy for the chicken

I'd like to start his post by saying that I don't like chickens. I don't like that they peck or flap, and to be completely honest, I don't even really care for the flavor or texture of their meat. I may also suffer from a bit of alektorophobia. I am, however, a huge fan of chicken stock/broth and eggs. (Not together.)

I would also like to make it clear, that this is NOT a political statement; it is just a personal epiphany that I'm sharing. 

While at knitting on Saturday, somehow the subject of chickens, eggs, and the treatment of animals in industrialized food came up. (We have a very deep and knowledgeable knitting group.) I think that the subject came up because of an episode of Bones, where there was a murder connected to a cage-free chicken facility.

Andrew and I had watched the episode together ("The Tough Man in the Tender Chicken") not long after we had an argument a civilized discussion about why we were paying twice as much for free-range eggs as we were for cage-free eggs. And for that matter, why we were paying twice as much for cage-free eggs as we were for regular eggs.

Free range eggs cost 5 times as much as regular eggs, for those of you who are comparison shoppers. I do not share the Cordelia Chase philosophy of "I don't want it because it's more expensive, I want it because it costs more." There needs to be a good reason to pay more.

I couldn't tell any difference in the flavor or quality of the eggs, and I felt like it was a waste of money. (After all, I eat a lot of eggs.) Andrew, who was in charge of egg-collecting for his mother's hen house lo those many years ago, felt differently. For the record, Andrew has no love of chickens, either.

Andrew argued asserted that it is wrong to keep chickens in cages, and I have come to agree. Unlike with dogs and crates, where a crate isn't considered to fit unless the dog can easily turn around in in and lay down comfortably, there is no such standard for chickens.

While I don't care for chickens, I do love dogs, and the idea of stuffing an animal in a crate to live out it's life until slaughter is abominable. Especially a crate that is too small.

A chicken, free-ranging around the Retzlaff Winery. It's probably a wino, but I would be, too, if I lived there.

Back to Bones. They showed cage-free chickens, and it was chickens moseying around (as best as a chicken can mosey when kept wall-to-wall). I pointed out that while this wasn't ideal, it also wasn't terrible. (It's a gross episode, and in a Fast Food Nation kind of way.) That's when Andrew pointed out the difference between cage-free and free-range.

To be honest, I didn't really think about it after that. When we were talking about industrialized chickens, Laura'nge talked in depth about the conditions. It made me ill.

Usually, I just move on and think about other things, but the conversation stuck with me. I thought about it all night, and into Sunday.

So, here is my (albeit predictable) decision: we will be buying free-range eggs. Not because they taste better, not because they're more economical, but because it's the right thing to do.

...And I don't want to keep chickens. Just like how I have agreed to not bring home dirty fleeces, Andrew has declared that we will never keep chickens. It may have been in our vows.


  1. I have also always hated chickens, smelly, pecking, and not much personality compared to other pets. But the taste of real eggs..... I'm sorry to say I think there will be a few chickens in the back yard in the spring.

  2. I really don'tr like chickens either, but YEARS ago I saw a documentary by BBC& co and I still remember with horror the chicks... actually the little cows were pretty bad too, but that another time...
    Anyway, I live in Southern Italy, and get my meat from a little butchers, and I can tell you... free range chicken meat is also COMPLETELY different! I never buy the other kind anymore! I might nt make a big difference, but a teeny tiny part is better than nothing!

    (teacosy on ravelry)

  3. Free range eggs all the way here!

    You know how people always say about strange meat (oh, like snake or crocodile) "It tastes just like chicken"? Maybe, but not like the chicken I eat! We get at least three meals for two out of one bird (roast, leftovers, and stock). Tea is right: free range chicken meat is in a league of its own.

  4. Growers only have to have chickens outside of their cages for a short time period (Doors open on the cage for 5 minutes per day qualifies). The only way to be sure that the eggs or chicken you are getting is from uncaged birds is to buy directly from the producer./

  5. I agree with Anonymous above, but being candid that I am vegan, I would! :) Good for you and Andrew for making this choice to live by your values. One of the factors in my decision to stop eating eggs was learning that the egg industry does away with those not-needed male chicks by simply sorting and throwing males into plastic garbage bags to suffocate and die or the supposedly more "painless" meathod of quick death by throwing them into choppers. Despite the fact that I love a poached egg and I haven't found anything to replace it (I love my scrambled tofu, but I've found nothing like a poached egg), I'll refrain from eating them until I can raise a chicken or two myself or purchase from someone who does not have plans to "do away with" their chickens when the chickens are no longer "useful" to them. I don't hierarchically order animals (cats and dogs over geese and cows, for example) and just as I believe my pets at home are allowed to live out their lives as long as they possibly can, I believe the same for the chickens - male and female. It's amazing what a little language can do: a pet is worth all kinds of care including doggie daycares,heroic medical measures, etc., but if an animal is labeled "product" or "food", suddenly that animal doesn't deserve the same kind of love,affection, or even humane care we so readily lavish on our pets. It's something I just simply don't understand.

    Thanks for the provocative post!

  6. Living in the 'poultry capital of the world', I can tell you that it is not a pretty site! Almost daily, I encounter a 'chicken truck' (taking it's load to the processing plant)on my drive into town, and it sickens me. I rarely eat an egg, and when I do it is one from a hen raised by a friend of mine. That said, I love chicken and struggle with that!


  7. Thank you. I completely agree. We don't eat many eggs but do eat chicken and the free range meat is very tender and looks different from those poor unhealthy confined and over medicated chickens.

    And we will not even begin the discussion on veal, cows or pigs.

    However I do want to mention that just because a milk product says it is organic does not mean those cows live in a field and come in every night. One major brand keeps their cows confined and on moveable floors to cut down on cleaning costs and labor. Organic Valley on the other hand, a cooperative of smaller farms, is truly humane and organic. Off the soap box now.

  8. Good for you! We're lucky. We have a friend who raises chickens and sells the eggs. Completely cage free with fortified fed. And there is an incredible difference in the eggs. Plus it makes me feel good. Even 5 times the price of storebought, eggs are still a low cost meal.

  9. I too believe all creatures deserve a decent life. I also believe in the food chain. I am Veganish eating an occasional egg or cheese, but mainly for health reasons feel a plant based diet is best for optimal health. I am so glad we're talking about these issues and voting with our dollars.

    Farm fresh eggs - cage free tend to have a thicker shell and are therefore less susceptible to "veg matter" getting in through hairline cracks often acquired through processing, so you are much less likely to get sick from them.

    Also many many Farmer's Markets now host farmers with their own eggs making them readily available and often at a lower cost than supermarket shelves. I love the occasional double yoke and the rich orange color from a farm fresh egg.

    Thanks for keeping the discussion going.

    I think we could talk about pigs and cows too. Their plight is as bad or worse on factory farm...

    Great book to listen to on tape while knitting is "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer. A lovely story and not too graphic like some of the others. Knowledge is still power and with it we can continue to make better choices with our money and our diet.

  10. It IS the right thing to do. Good for you!


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