My Poultry Problem Is Our Poultry Problem

Chicken is my problem. If you read Nicholas Kristof’s column this morning in the Times, you’ll see that it is our problem too. Or pop in Food, Inc for an eye-opening journey through poultry production. As you know, we humans eat a lot of chicken. And the price of chicken has gone down drastically over the past decades because of changes in the means of production. Chickens bred for roasting often are confined and can’t move because their breasts are too heavy for them to move. They are fed feed filled with antibiotics. And these changes mean that you can buy a roasting chicken at the local grocery store for 49 cents a pound when they are on sale. Trying to feed a family of five on a budget, it can be very hard to turn away from these rock bottom deals. Especially when the organic chicken of the same size is about 5 times as expensive. Or sometimes even more if you get it from the farm directly.

Fascinatingly, at least for me, I don’t find it difficult to rationalize grass-fed local beef — because we don’t eat steak that much, and ground beef from the butcher is comparable in cost. Bacon isn’t a problem either, but again, when you have bacon from the farmer’s market, taste is extraordinary, and cost, while greater, is not so different that it makes me pause. We don’t eat bacon everyday.  But chicken is different. It is the foundation of many of our meals.  And it has been really hard to rationalize the increased costs for organic or farmer’s market chicken. But what I have been reading and learning about and most recently eating, is really affecting how I approach my chicken consumption. And I am trying hard to change how I think about and purchase chicken for the Family Foodie.

So several weeks ago, we ordered a chicken from South Mountain Creamery, our dairy that delivers happy milk and eggs to us once a week. And in our cooler, we received a nearly 6 pound bird. Plump and sweet smelling. Seriously. Farmer direct chicken smells sweet. Nothing like chicken from the grocery store.

We roast chicken regularly. Easy and delicious, although rarely enough to feed us all with leftovers. But this bird was going to prove itself different. Stuffed with onions and lemons, seasoned with olive oil and Fox Point Seasoning from Penzeys Spices, roasted in a 325 degree oven for an hour and forty five minutes or so, this bird was amazing.

Accompanied by Honeyed Acorn Squash, it fed us all quite well for supper.

But what made this mama really happy is how much meat remained at the end of the meal. There was enough left over for lunches for us all, and bones to make chicken broth and enough leftover chicken meat that became the chicken noodle soup you see below. So easy, so filling, and quite cost effective. We figure that we got at least 15 servings worth of meals from this bird. For just about $1.50 a serving. Not cheap. But delicious. And not filled with Tylenol or Benadryl or arsenic. Just chicken.

And so, when shopping at Trader Joe’s this weekend, I opted for the organic chicken over the “regular” chicken. Not from the farm, so not quite so sweet-smelling. But the meat to fat ratio was much more like the farm’s chicken than the cheap roasters we used to buy. And the moistness and flavor were definitely on the farm side.

I don’t think I’ll ever buy a “regular” roaster again.  And I am fortunate that my grocery budget has enough flexibility in it to allow for the increased costs. Many others around our great country might find that jump in price too high. But we know that chicken produced on factory farms is fraught with problems. I don’t know how to solve this problem. But I do know that my choices about the chickens I buy will be informed by what I am learning.

Who else is thinking about chicken tonight?

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8 Comments to “My Poultry Problem Is Our Poultry Problem”

  1. Me – chicken is my favorite meat. It does indeed seem to be lacking in taste these days. Sigh.

  2. This is excellent! 🙂 Very well said!

  3. Wow, that was a disturbing article. I do think about chicken … I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and it left me convinced that if I am to eat poultry, it has to come from an actual farmer. I feel like every new bit of freakish information I learn keeps reinforcing the same thing – whether plant or animal product, it is best to source as direct from the farmer as possible. Arsenic on purpose … mind-boggling.

  4. We have gotten chicken from South Mountain, and love it. We are learning to eat less meat at dinner. I did buy chicken thighs today at Roots, our local organic market. Making chicken noodle soup in the crock pot tomorrow.

    Look into Amish markets if you can find one.They also sell free range chickens.

    Can’t wait for our summer challenge. Looks like we all are still cooking locally.

  5. That chicken looks WONDERFUL! When we made the switch to organic and local I also switched us to smaller meat portions (well, really what a portion should be and not what we had been eating) and also we have a few vegetarian meals a week to help spread out the cost. What I find hard is cooking and taking food to a meeting/get-together where most of the people don’t eat organic or even care. How do I cook something to take for 15 people and still stay with organic – well, I am opting for vegetarian dishes and not things with meat, but it is hard.

    • I have not gotten to the point where I can take organic food for 15 people yet – but vegetarian has got to be the best way to go. Soup would probably work well too – but it is much less transportable!

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