Wednesday, June 4, 2014

AN $18 CHICKEN


In May I traveled from Mexico back to New Hampshire to spend the next few months in a two room cottage on a small lake in the woods. The radio and wildlife will provide most of my company until my family arrives.

There are mergansers and wood ducks, and in the last few days the sunfish have begun hovering over their sandy, crater-like nests just off shore the way they do every year.  A bullfrog, the size of a small melon, sits up to his eyeballs in water only a few feet from where I knit in the evenings. When fishermen trawl by, I hold my breath hoping we'll remain unseen and undisturbed.  

I am a lucky woman to be able to experience this, and I feel fortunate to have a little time alone before my family joins me. For one thing I can cook just for myself. Since I don't eat wheat and very little meat and virtually no sugar, it's relaxing not to worry about whether everyone else is happy. Asparagus is in season and there are early greens in the farm markets, and I stopped at a farm called Sunnyfield in Peterborough and bought an $18.00 chicken the other day. My sinuses were feeling the effects of traveling and I thought some meat and meat stock would be fortifying. Even in societies that are mostly vegetarian, children, the elderly, and the sick are fed animal protein. Meanwhile, I just started reading the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer which is making me examine my relationship to animals ever more closely.

The farm store at Sunnyfield is self-serve with freezers full of beef, pork, lamb, and whole chickens, and with coolers full of raw milk and cream. When I arrived, grass-fed broiler chickens had just been put in the freezer and weren't yet frozen. I chose the smallest one and weighed it myself, plugging in the price per lb.: $5.00. It came to $18.10. That's expensive, right?  I don't think of myself as someone who can afford an $18.00 chicken. I'm used to Mexico prices, for one thing. On the other hand, I knew I was going to get a week's worth of meals out of it. 

After I bought the chicken I took it directly to my camp and salted it all over with coarse sea salt. I learned about salting in Michael Pollan's book Cooked. It does wonders for making meat tender and moist.  Then I cut an onion into thin rounds and slowly sautéd it in a tiny amount of olive oil. I put the whole chicken in my crock pot with some carrot chunks. I poured the translucent onions over and pushed them down and around the chicken. I added about two cups of water, maybe less, turned the crock pot to low and left camp to attend to some apartment maintenance projects (I'm a landlord). 

When I returned to the cottage, the chicken was well cooked and there was a lot of very rich and fatty broth in the bottom of the pot tasting like onion soup. I put carrots, onions and a chicken leg in a bowl and enjoyed them with a salad. Then I read some of Eating Animals. I got to the part about the history of factory farming and what that actually means to the lives of poultry: chickens and turkeys travel through the mail as chicks with many dying along the way. Their peaks are seared off; they spend their lives indoors under artificial lights packed body to body in excrement; there are antibiotics in their water because antibiotics make animals fat*; and when they are old enough, they are roughly gathered, crated, and sent by truck to an excruciating slaughter. In other words, their lives are painful and without any of the joy of sunshine, eating bugs, or socializing normally.  

Quote from Frank Reese, a humane poultry farmer interviewed by Foer: "Most of the folks who buy my turkeys are not rich by any means; they're struggling on fixed incomes. But they're willing to pay more for the sake of what they believe in. They're willing to pay the real price. And to those who say it's just too much to pay for a turkey, I always say to them, 'Don't eat turkey.' It's possible you can't afford to care, but it's certain you can't afford not to care."  By the time I got to this quote, I was happy I'd spent that $18.00!

The more I read about the suffering of factory farmed animals, the more grateful I was that I could find meat so easily from animals that weren't treated inhumanely. New Hampshire may be deficient in some ways, but humane farming is being done here, and if you raise farm animals humanely you can have them slaughtered humanely too -- which isn't true in many states, unfortunately.  

A couple of years ago we had a kill man (the person who kills animals at a slaughterhouse) as a tenant. He was a lovely person and he explained the various methods of animal slaughter to me. 

In US slaughtering facilities,  cows and pigs are killed with bolts or shots to the brain. In the part of Mexico I live, and where the kill man had visited, animals' throats are slit. He had experience in both methods and was actually certified to slaughter and butcher according to Islamic law -- "by slitting the animal's throat in a swift and merciful manner, reciting 'In the name of God, God is Most Great.'" He also was someone who went to family farms and killed animals on-site saving them the stress of traveling to slaughter houses. Kinder slaughtering makes meat taste better, he explained, because the chemicals of fear (adrenaline is one of them) changes the flavor and texture of meat for the worse. 

My priority in life right now is to be healthy -- physically and mentally. After reading Foer's book, I realize I can't be mentally healthy if I know I've had a hand in the mutilation, torture, stress, terror and violent deaths of animals. Foer's book is very convincing about that. I will, however, continue to eat some animal products from animals that were raised humanely because I do believe a little well-raised meat is good for my physical health, although I often go weeks without eating any of it. 

With my $18.00 chicken, besides the initial crockpot dish,  I made six cups of broth with the carcass. I cooked lentils in three cups of the broth, I used fat that I skimmed from the crockpot to saute collards, and I used the meat throughout the week, sometimes served over rice that I cooked in chicken broth. I also had a guest to dinner one night. 

When I finished the chicken and Foer's book, I went back to Sunnyview farm to check out their live chickens. No one was about, so I just showed myself around (try doing that on a factory farm and you could be arrested). When I came upon the chicken yard, all the chickens came running to see me, clucking like crazy. Eventually the rooster jumped up on a post and started crowing -- not in an alarmed way, I really felt he was just talking to me. That's the relationship I want to have with the animals I eat. I want us to have a relationship of trust, the same relationship I foster with the ducks and squirrels, the bullfrog and sunfish here on my end of the pond.

_______ 

*Animals are fed antibiotics because antibiotics make animals fat. A recent book Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, MD explains the link between antibiotics and increased fat and bone mass in farm animals and in humans. Blaser also discusses in depth why it's vital that we limit our exposure to antibiotics except in medical emergencies.  






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