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Revisiting Chicken

I remember the day I swore off chicken. Vividly.

Working in a commercial kitchen, I swung into the back production area at 8am and was greeted by two 6′ x 3′ stainless steel work tables LOADED with large sheet pans of piece after piece of raw chicken, waiting their turn to enter the roasting oven. We served thousands of customers a day, so it really wasn’t overkill, but still a bit unsettling.

I looked up at one of the favorite Chefs I ever worked with and sort of kiddingly said, “that’s disgusting.” His response… “Well Jenn, that’s the dirty bird.” That moment quietly ignited a career path of advocating for a more sustainable and humane (for animal production) food supply. It doesn’t take much research to arrive at the conclusion that chickens are the most abused food animal. So, it’s been just shy of 20 years since I’ve eaten the stuff.

Heritage Chicken TastingI should acknowledge one noteable departure from my dining policy in 2006. For a later job, I did eat chicken. It was delicious, and only reinforced my personal ban. It was a side-by-side tasting of heritage varieties of chicken, raised in the most humane of conditions. Real birds, healthy birds, with one bad day.¬†We had a control bird too. The standard Cornish Cross, which makes up 99% of the U.S. confinement supply of chicken, was obvious in every way – sight, size, texture, FLAVOR, and smell. It’s really the only kind available for retail purchase by the average consumer. My no-chicken standard stayed strong.

Until now.

A few weeks ago, a friend inspired me to reconsider. Mind you, this has been attempted way more than once. Many people choose chicken as the only meat they’ll eat. They’re surprised by my choice. I’m surprised by theirs.

My friend emailed me to say she was raising some Red Ranger chickens for her family, and would I be interested in paying her to raise a couple more? Hmmm.

I know they’ll eat well, live well and die well, these birds. Are Red Rangers a true heritage breed? No. But, they are a step in the right direction. Would I co-raise and eat more than a couple a year? Probably not. From a life-sacrificed per pound equation, I’ve long felt more comfortable eating a pig or steer. That’s not likely to change.

Finding my Chicken SideSo, I signed up for two Red Rangers. Gidget is the one I’ll follow and see how it goes. I’m hoping the journey also helps me get over a slight fear I have of chickens. Her poultry bracelet went on this week, so I can track her (or possibly him – really can’t tell yet) progress, and mine. I’ll treasure every bite and teaspoon of excellent stock.

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