Posted by: J Nyman | March 12, 2008

Is this really what has become of chicken?

chicken.jpgI find myself thinking a lot about chicken these days. They seem to be throwing themselves in my path more than usual. Not literally, thankfully as that would be alarming behaviour for a chicken.

I think I’m noticing more feathery details because I’m getting excited about finally getting some fowl back on our farm.  We’re leaning towards ordering from McMurray Hatchery as we’d like to do some of the rarer breeds.  (Anyone with experience with McMurray, please comment on your level of satisfaction.)

It’s been a few years of eating grocery store poultry for us and it just doesn’t compare. Even the ‘top of the line’ chicken isn’t as good as what we grow in our 10’x10′ ‘chicken condos’.

So, with every aspect of chicken rearing and eating right on the tip of my brain, I hesitated at the grocery store when I saw chicken legs on sale for $2.20 CDN per kilogram. (That translates to about $1 a pound, still in Canadian dollars. We’re so close to par that I’m not going to do that calculation. I’m all calculated out with the kg to lb switch!)

I hesitated for more than one reason, not the least of which was the number of chicken related posts on ChowHound‘s post called Grocery Store Items NOT to buy.

First, I looked down at those pale but large-ish chicken legs and thought of the conditions the birds must have been grown in; no sunlight and breathing in a heavy concentration of airborne ammonia. I knew, also, that their diet had not been optimal. Not the most healthy choice for our family but still chicken, at least. And bargain, at that.

My second reason for not immediately latching onto the bulk package of legs has to do with the bargain factor. I am one who stands upon my soap box (and as a public speaker on the subject, no less) and tries to drill it into farmers that we must start demanding a fair return on our investment for what we produce. Gone are the days when we produce food for only a couple of dollars an hour, I declare!

I’m also lucky enough to speak with consumers and I politely but firmly inform them that our food is artificially cheap and that, if we want to eat good food, we have to pay for it.

So, picture me having these conflicting thoughts and emotions as I look down at what could be the protein portion of 3 meals for my family for the ROCK BOTTOM SALE PRICE! of $5.35! When I have, on other occasions, seen a similar package for $20 or more, this is hard to resist.

And resist, I didn’t. Home I came with my bargain basement chicken all the while looking forward to the days when there would be a chicken feast awaiting me in my own freezer. At least it’s chicken, I reminded myself again. It’s not a fatty cut of ENTER YOUR LEAST FAVOURITE meat here. Pat on the back for choosing lower fat meats, Colleen.

Or so I thought. Here is where I started to hear my own words ringing in my head about artificially cheap food.

I decided to skin a few of the pieces and stew them. And, as I peeled away the skin, I was appalled to see how fat these birds were. It’s no wonder commercially raised chickens frequently die of heart attacks before making it to market. This guy must have been the sumo wrestling champion of the chicken feedlot!

I decided I wanted to know the extent of my bargain shopping folly and weighed the fat that I trimmed from these puppies. Not the skin, just the thick, solid, white fat.

(I thought about including a picture of the slimy little pile, but decided it would have been cruel to my fledgling blog).

Here’s how it calculated out:

For my $5.35 I got 2.432 kg or roughly 5.36 lbs.

Of those 2.432 kg, 525 g was pure fat. That’s 1.16 lbs.

So, I paid just shy of $1.16 for fat. That’s about 21.5% of the total cost of that package of chicken.

Now, a quick word about fat. Fat is good for us, we need some to survive and for healthy joints. There’s my disclaimer.

I’m not a low-fat fanatic by any means. (Butter on your toast, anyone?) But this is a little ridiculous. There is more than enough fat within the meat of a chicken leg for flavour and good health. And chicken is not usually one of a North Americans main sources of healthy fats.

So what is with this chunky chicken? Grain. That is the only reasonable explanationgustafson_-_hansel_and_gretal.jpg why a cut of poultry would have that much of the white stuff. Big chicken producers are pushing their birds to grow faster with high amounts of grain and little natural ‘chicken exercise’ like scratching and pecking the ground – in essence, foraging for their food.

It puts me in mind of a poultry version of Hansel and Gretel. And, don’t we want the chicken on the table to have actually once behaved like a chicken should?

I sure do. Don’t get me wrong, I will get in bed tonight and be grateful that my belly is full of trimmed chicken leg dinner but, you can bet I will dream of robust tasting, ammonia fog-free, lean chicken to come from our farm.

(How’s that for jumping on my soapbox for everyone? ;))

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