A while back I wrote about Beer and Meat and I have once again started pouring over the The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I picked up the book recently to learn about the cuts of lamb (Erik and I are splitting a whole one!), but, having just watched Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners, I started reading about chickens instead. It turns out that the average chicken has it pretty rough. Some facts I learned about chicken from Jamie and Hugh:
- The average westerner eats 15 chickens a year.
- The average chicken lives for 41 days before slaughter.
- During those 41 days, the broiler house (where the chickens live) is not cleaned.
- Of the chickens we eat, 98% are intensively farmed (i.e. live at Chicken Auschwitz and never see the sun).
- Between 6-30% of a batch of broiler chickens die before slaughter.
- Chicken density in a broiler house can reach 38kg per square meter (at 2kg per chicken, that means almost twenty chickens in a square meter!).
- The Ross Cobb chicken breed (the breed we mostly eat) is genetically obese and can’t reach sexual maturity without being starved so it doesn’t get too fat and die.
- Around 25% of broiler chickens can’t walk because they get too fat and don’t have enough room to walk around and develop muscles. Ever had a drumstick where the foot end was a bit black? That is a result of acid from the chicken’s own feces seeping into the bone because the chicken was walking on its knees.
Pretty gross, eh? I was shocked to learn about how bad chickens really have it. I really recommend watching Fowl Dinners for a crash course in chicken provenance. Jamie even slaughters a chicken in front of the live studio audience, who looked on with abject horror. I don’t understand why we pay to watch people die in movies, but can’t tolerate watching our food die. If we are eating 15 chickens a year each, we should be prepared to slaughter a chicken. Obviously all non crazy people won’t enjoy taking the life of an animal, but not being able to do it yourself is the ultimate in hypocrisy.
I also learned from Jamie and Hugh that happy, healthy chickens who are able to grow slowly and vary their diet with natural forage taste better! I can attest to this first hand. My wife recently acquired a chicken from one of her coworker’s hobby farm. The chicken was free range, organically fed (no medicated protein soup), and likely led a pretty good life. We cooked the bird using Erik’s Beer Butt Chicken recipe and it was the most delicious chicken I’ve ever had in my entire life. Here’s the recipe:
- Season the whole chicken (skin on) with salt and pepper. Chop some rosemary and thyme and rub it on the dry chicken. Take a few rosemary springs and shove it under the breast skin.
- Drink one and a half beers (minimum) – leave half of one beer in the can and put some of the fresh herbs used in the rub into the can.
- Get a chicken stand and put the beer can into it. Shove the stand with the can in it into the chicken’s butt.
- Turn one side of your BBQ on and leave the other side off – you want a convection oven effect. Once up to 350F put the bird on the off side of the grill. Cook for one and a half hours or when you hit 165F internal temperature. Rotate the bird once or twice during the cooking process.
You will not regret trying the above recipe. Make sure you drink at least one and a half beers! You’ll also find that your chicken will taste better if it had a good life. I implore you to ignore most chicken products unless you can gain some assurance that they had a good life. Even if you don’t like chickens as birds (they are pretty dumb), think of how great a happy chicken will taste!