Should I be embarrassed to confess I am still grieving for Tulip? She was our Black Copper Marans hen that met a tragic end last month when a wily coyote found a fence break on our property.
Or should I be more embarrassed at the circumstances of my mourning? The CE and I, currently in NYC, had walked up Columbus Avenue to try a new restaurant, Cafe Tallulah, (we liked it!) and in the midst of my tearful outpouring of Tulip grief, I happened to glance down at the CE’s plate. Yes, he was having the chicken.
So there I was, grieving for a chicken, over chicken. How do we feel about that?
Guilt did not wash very far over me before I remembered seeing my own chickens eating…yes, chicken. Or turkey. And don’t forget tuna, they love tuna!
Chickens are not herbivores. They are omnivores. When you see a chicken scratching in the dirt, I can promise you it is not looking for Brussels sprouts. It is hoping for a juicy worm or beetle. The next time you see “vegetarian fed” on a carton of eggs, praise the advertising geniuses, not the egg farmers. A hen that is fed only a vegetarian pellet diet is not a happy or perhaps even healthy hen. If you can stand it, watch this video of a hen getting a bit of animal protein in her diet:
On the playing field of commerce, chickens often seem to rate low in the pecking order. Large-scale battery farming operations are infamous for their maltreatment of poultry, confining birds to spaces so small they can’t even turn around.
But there are glimmers of hope. These past few weeks, hens on both coasts have had reason to look up and see that the sky is not falling. My stepdaughter, Tina, forwarded me a link last week about an extravagant cross-country airlift rescue of 1,200 hens threatened with the traditional battery farm retirement “gift” after their two most productive laying seasons. If you need a hint as to what that “gift” was, I will just tell you it has nothing to do with a gold watch. An anonymous donor picked up the $50,000 tab to charter a flight for the death row hens to a sanctuary in New York.
Those reprieved (but possibly jet-lagged) birds may be further cheered to hear that in addition to a better life, some chickens enjoy a better menu on their new coast. Another recent NY Times article touted a collaboration between preeminent NYC restaurants incuding Gramercy Tavern, Per Se and The Modern with Ariane Daguin’s D’Artagnan “Green Circle” chicken project.
It makes so much sense you wonder how it didn’t happen sooner: scraps from the participating restaurants are ferried to the farms that produce the restaurants’ poultry. Chickens destined to be served at Per Se will dine only on scraps from that establishment; poulets destined for restaurant Daniel will be served a menu of scraps from that restaurant. I think most of us would pay to nosh on scraps from Daniel, so these chickens must be mighty pleased with their new diet.
There is an adage, or maybe just a Hallmark card, that suggests it is not how we die but how we live that matters. I will continue to grieve for poor Tulip, but I do know that her two years of roaming our property were good ones. I say roaming instead of “free-ranging” because the same marketing mavens who brought you “vegetarian fed” have seized the unregulated term “free-range” and rendered it meaningless. The battery-farmed “free-range” hen may be caged in a building that somewhere has a window out of which a bird could theoretically see grass – if it wasn’t jammed beak to debeaked beak with fifty of its brethren.
But if the roasted, poached or braised slice of poultry on your plate was “pastured”, then it may actually have pecked in the grass and preened its feathers in the sunlight during its life. In which case, go ahead, eat it! Because if you don’t, the chickens will.