This week I wanted to talk a little bit about chicken. We used to eat a lot of chicken. Because when you are striving for a low fat diet, you tend to gravitate toward foods that are lean and, well, low in fat. But as you know with the salmonella issues, and the 20,000 chickens to a coop issues, and all the GMO corn feed, modern industrial chickens are not such a clean source of food. (Check out Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it has some very good chicken information.) So we started eating pastured chicken purchased through my CSA. But I still bought chicken breasts from them mostly, because that is what I was accustomed to. But we like beef; and grass fed beef I believe to be actually very HEALTHY for you, so we started eating less and less chicken. What I did do was start buying WHOLE chickens.
The whole chickens at my farmer’s market are $7 per pound! Yipes! Through my CSA whole chickens are $4.99 per pound. That is still almost $25 for a standard 4-5 lb chicken. The grocery store chickens are less than $12 total. What’s up with that? The farmer's market chickens are also only available in the fall, not year round like at your grocery store.
Also an issue to consider, I used to use breasts or thighs because they are convenient. But as you know from any bird that you have roasted whole, there is a lot of waste if you only use the breast. In a commercial chicken operation, where does the waste go? My farmer’s market doesn’t even offer just breasts. Buy a chicken whole or don’t buy it at all. It is a lot of work to raise this already small animal only to sell off the breasts. Additionally when only purchasing parts, the consumer wants a cheaper price because they are only buying part of the chicken. In that scenario, it becomes more and more important to raise meat CHEAPLY. If the farmer can only sell off the breasts and the thighs then theoretically they need to make as much profit off those parts as they would if they sold the whole chicken. And if you the consumer are only willing to pay half the price of a whole chicken because you are not actually buying a whole chicken, then the farmers need to raise their chickens at half the cost that they previously did. Right? Do you see how big business screwed up chickens? Do you see why chicken was more of a local and seasonal or even home raised food rather than a big business food before 1950? Chickens are a lot of work and they have a pretty low profit margin unless you can raise them cheaply and quickly. And raising cheap chicken usually means a chicken that is bred (not genetically modified) to grow to a weight of 4 pounds in 6-7 weeks, is held in a “coop” with 20,000 other birds and who has to walk on it’s friends’ feces every day.
So, I started buying whole chickens. I am also buying them less often, maybe once a month. Because a large farmer’s market or CSA chicken costs about $35-40 (yielding 1-2 dinners and a soup). Whereas, a pound of grass fed ground beef costs $7-8 (yielding 1 dinner). And with a whole chicken, I get the added benefit of having all the bones to make homemade gelatin rich stock. Truly, nothing goes to waste.
Also recently I made a new Internet friend. Lisa from Caliban’s Kitchen is a blogger and fellow mom in my “upstate” Manhattan neighborhood. We were connected through a mutual friend. I love what Lisa is doing on her site and I have provided a link in my blog roll. She has recently been writing a lot about humanely raised chickens, and a particular brand Murray’s that is available to folks here in the New York City area among other places.
Murray’s Chicken claims that they use no antibiotics or hormones. But Lisa had some questions. Were they humanely raised? Were they pastured? Did they have access to outdoor space? What is the definition of Humanely Raised? Lisa contacted Murray’s directly and they were actually totally human and not some business style android in their response. Please check out her site in the following posts all about her experience with Murray’s chicken. If the links don't take you directly to the corresponding pages, but rather to her home page, you can click on the Archives section, you will find all of the following posts in the archives for October 2010.
Murray's to The Rescue? Well, Maybe
The Sunny Side of the Coop: My Chat With Murray's Chicken
Understanding the Life of the Chickens We Eat