Come closer, Dear Reader. I have a confession to make. I am about to tell you my deepest, darkest chicken-keeping secret. You already know that I raise chickens. What you don’t know is that I don’t eat chicken. No, I don’t mean that I don’t eat chickens that I raise. I mean that I don’t eat any chicken. Can you forgive me?
It’s true. I raise chickens, but I don’t eat chicken. I knew that it was peculiar, but it seems even more so as I type the actual words and look at them on my computer screen. Our chickens live in their coop right in the midst of our vegetable garden. They are surrounded by crops that we plant, tend, harvest and eat. Yet somehow, they need not worry about ending up on our dinner plates.
Why, you may ask, don’t I eat chicken? Simple. I watched Food, Inc. After I recovered from the trauma, I started to look at food a lot differently. I felt like I was a fairly educated epicure before I walked into that theater. I had read all of Michael Pollan’s books. I loved to read about food and did so at every opportunity. I knew better than to order a Caprese salad in January. I had already given up eating beef that wasn’t grass-fed. What I didn’t know was how absolutely frightening the conditions at the big poultry farms were.
I was very careful about the chicken I purchased at the store. I would have preferred to purchase chicken at the local farmer’s market, but a local ordinance prevented the sale of poultry there. I did what I thought was the next best thing. I purchased only organic, all-naturally raised chicken. I paid the premium and was happy to do so because I thought that I was getting something for it. After watching Food, Inc. I realized that if I couldn’t buy chicken from the farmer that had raised it, I didn’t want to eat it at all.
Fast forward almost a year later and I found myself working on a chicken coop here at 1840 Farm. The chicks were ordered and on their way. Even I had to admit that it was odd that I wouldn’t have a chicken in my refrigerator, but I was toiling away in the summer heat to make it possible for them to live in comfort on our farm. But toil away we did and the coop was finally finished and ready for our little flock to move in. Now we could begin the waiting game for that glorious day when we would find eggs waiting for us in the nesting boxes.
People often assume that because I don’t eat meat, I must judge them for doing so. Quite the opposite. I really don’t. I ate meat, including chicken, for years. I never had the courage of my culinary convictions to raise an animal knowing that it would eventually take up residence in my roasting pan. I came to the conclusion that for me, it didn’t make sense to eat meat if I didn’t bring it to our dinner table from our farm instead of from the local grocery store.
I have the utmost respect for those of you who raise chickens and reap what you sow in the chicken coop. Isn’t that what farming is all about? The nurturing of a small, delicate object whether it be a seed or a day-old chick through the treacherous first few weeks when something as simple as too much water or a lack thereof can be the difference between life and death. The daily tending to a living being that demands, usually without an audible extension of gratitude, your full attention.
I feel like those of you raising chickens for meat are working towards the same goal that I am. We are trying to be more connected to the food our families eat and putting in the hard work to make that possible. I continue to do so with the hope that my unpaid labor and hours of attention will produce a healthy meal for my family. If you are raising chickens for meat and/or eggs, then you are doing the same.
How can I not respect that? It’s what my great-grandparents did. They were dairy farmers and raised most of their own food either in their vegetable garden or as livestock, including chickens. They didn’t choose it because it was an easy life. They chose it because it was the life that made sense to them. Now I find myself living less than 125 miles away from the site of their farm. It may be almost a century later, but here I am, trying to figure out what kind of farming life makes sense to me.
I don’t know if I’ll ever decide to eat chicken again. Maybe after years of raising chickens I will decide to give it a try. Maybe not. Raising chickens for meat was never the intention of my great chicken experiment. I was hoping to teach my children that food has value far beyond its price tag at the local market. I wanted them to understand where their food came from, whether it was from the vegetable garden or the chicken coop.
Herbert Hoover was credited with uttering the promise of “a chicken in every pot” and a “car in every garage”. Apparently, he never promised anything of the sort. In true political fashion, the national committee of his party made the promise, but more than 80 years later, he is thought by many to have said the words himself. I don’t want to suffer the same fate as far as chicken proclamations go. My hope is for “a chicken in every yard” or at least every yard that wants one. I hope that we can all get a better understanding of the hard work that goes into raising our food, be it pumpkins or poultry.
So, on this Thanksgiving, I commend those of you who have raised the bird that will take center stage on your family’s table. I hope that there is enough turkey for everyone in the “chicken in every pot” sense. I’ll be perfectly content that my pot will be overflowing with food of the vegetable variety. The chickens at 1840 Farm will be happy that I’ll be sharing the trimmings with them.