Chickens. It seems there is a lot to say on the subject these days:
Because we eat a lot of chicken in this country. It's a cheap source of protein.
Because I happen to really like chicken. It's easy to cook, it freezes well and it takes on flavors well.
There appears to be a lot of confusion on what types of chickens & eggs we should be purchasing. Do you definitively know the difference between a Cage-Free and Free-Range bird? I thought I did.
Are we treating the animal ethically? And does that treatment effect the food we ingest?
Let me start by saying, I don't really want to get on a soap box and give you a new religion disguised as responsible food or organics or whatever the latest catch-phrases are. I'm just talking... common sense here. I'm a consumer, I cook chicken, I want to be an eater armed with knowledge. I don't presume to have all the answers but a little research and a little experience has taught me a few things.
I had the good fortune to be raised on a fruit farm, smack in the middle of an orchard where we (at least for my earliest years) raised chickens. My mom and I got up every morning in our cotton night gowns (that she sewed. It was very Little House On The Prairie) and walked barefoot behind our house to feed the chickens and collect eggs. Only the rooster was a little cranky, the hens were friendly as can be. Our chickens had their own "coop" although I don't know why we called it a coop because it was more like the chicken-strip-mall. The sucker was huge.
Those birdies had all the shelter they needed in the coop, and they needed it badly because coyotes are also free-range out where I come from. But the chickens were also free to come and go outside the coop searching for seeds, bugs, worms and whatever else caught their eye. Which meant they wandered into the orchards, the road, my Grandma's flower gardens and Mom's flower beds. The latter reasons may be why one day all the chickens disappeared. But our chickens lived the life they were meant to live: sheltered, well fed and free as a... bird.
So when I watched Food Inc. and saw how the larger modern day chicken processors are caring for their birds I, like the rest of you, was horrified. And some of the backlash of this film was people started demanding that the chicken they purchased in stores be raised "cage-free". Then the buzz word became "free-range." But what do those words really mean when I'm standing in front of the meat counter picking out a roaster? Turns out, not much. If you want to get a quick and painless education on it please watch this video I stumbled on today from "The Lexicon of Sustainability."
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/30716968 w=400&h=300]
Now, I will tell you that buying your chicken (to eat) from a smaller farmer, pasture-raised will cost more. But how about starting smaller: try buying your eggs from a local chicken farmer. Today, all sorts of people are raising small flocks of chickens and will sell you their extra eggs for a reasonable price. I'm betting if you pay close attention next time you drive to your local grocery store, you'll see signs for fresh eggs somewhere along the way.
Or maybe you have some outdoor space and would like to raise a couple chickens of our own. It just so happens that my Wonder Twin (aka: Serena) owns a great site called Uptown Coops that can give you tons of information on raising chickens in your own backyard. She knows because she has a small flock of her own in her front yard in the Pacific Northwest. I met them all (the chickens) recently, and they are lovely gals. Two of them are pictured above with Audrey & Esther.
Uptown Coops specializes in affordable, eco-friendly coop kits that are also completely non-toxic. And they're cute! Uptown Coops can help supply you with what you need to set up a happy, healthy home for your own chickens and soon you'll have delicious, fresh eggs of your own.
Whether you start a brood of your own, or you continue to by your chicken/eggs at a store, just be mindful of where it's coming from and how it was raised. It really does make a difference.