Fair Fowl

June 24, 2010

Just stopped by the farm where I’ll be getting my chickens from now on. We pay $135 as our share in the CSA, for which we get 2 chickens a month for 4 months – and the satisfaction of knowing that we’re participating in the farm.

The farmer is a woman, and before she handed me two beautiful birds from the refrigerator, she led me through her barn so I could see the new chicks, little balls of yellow fluff huddled beneath a heat lamp, and the little turkeys, who have just gotten their feathers. They were about to leave the barn for the first time, and they strutted proudly about. One independent chicken skittered at our ankles; she doesn’t like spending her time with the rest of the flock, preferring the company of the pigs.

And who can blame her? They’re sweet little creatures, nosing and grunting about on the hillside. We stood leaning on the fence, watching them cavorting with an old corn cob. Hard to believe they’ll be 250 pounds by the time the leaves turn.

“But that’s $17.50 a chicken!” said a friend I met in town when I proudly displayed my chickens. She pointed to her grocery bag and said, “I just got one at the supermarket for three bucks. Can yours taste that much better?”

I tried to find a way to tell her that the way things taste is in your mind as much as your mouth. Struggling for words I finally blurted out, “Do you have any idea what your chicken’s life was like?”

She didn’t. But while it was once possible for people not to know about the conditions in animal factories, in these food-savvy times ignorance is an act of will. Why would my friend want to know about the miserable life of her factory chicken? It could only ruin her appetite.

I’ve written a lot about this issue, but I think you have to go to a farm to truly understand the price of a good conscience. The chickens I was taking away had good lives and a clean death. Giving them that isn’t cheap. But it is a price that I’m willing to pay. Because these chickens taste so much better – in every way.

Categorised in:


  • I pick up a farm-fresh box at our local independently owned mail depot here in Petaluma, Sonoma County every Thursday and I have to say, the whole chickens are my favorite. I roasted one just last night with a handful of herbs from the back yard, a squeeze of lemon and garlic, olive oil (McEvoys us just down the road) and some sea salt, throwing in a bunch of baby potatoes. It’s the easiest thing in the world, but truly the tastiest. Sent my interning college-age son off to work this morning with a sandwich made up of the last of the chicken! The Farm here in Petaluma is: http://www.tarafirmafarms.com and is based on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. If you ever have a spare moment, Ruth, check out their web site. You would really like Tara, the farm’s matriarch, she has an impassioned following here in Southern Sonoma County and in Northern Marin.

  • Thanks, Ruth.
    It’s difficult for people to conceive of just how bad factory farms are, and how precious the few remaining healthy farms are.

  • Elycooks says:

    Worth every penny in heart, mind and taste. I do most of my shopping at a local small grocery store that sells organic everything and has a wonderful old fashioned butcher counter. More expensive certainly, but so satisfying in every sense.
    Frances, thank for sharing the info on Terafirmafarms What a find!

  • Karen says:

    This is a running battle I have with several people who think that the cheaper they can buy food, the better. And these are people who have the means to pay more. But its a mental block that many don’t want to think about. Acknowledging that animals are treated inhumanely so we can have cheap meat means actually having to do something about it, like changing how you shop and prepare food. It means taking responsibility. But it is so worth it. Great blog, Ruth.

  • The humane treatment of animals aside, people don’t understand that factory farm animals spend their entire lives wallowing in their own excrement. This and the fact that cows-ruminants were never meant to eat corn is why their feed is loaded with antibiotics and they are given antibiotics as a preemptive. I try to keep our use of antibiotics to a minimum but 50% of our exposure is due to factory farm practices. I can’t always make sure of what I am purchasing or ask restaurants where they get their meat but if everyone did just a little bit to support family farms and vote with their wallets, it would be capitalism at its best! And yes, one of my favorite ways to spend Saturday mornings is at my local Farmer’s Market. Actually, wherever we travel, I try to locate them.

  • Ruth, I do love your writing and I really enjoyed reading Garlic and Sapphires some years ago but I can’t help but comment here on what I feel is hypocritical on your part.
    You speak of humane treatment of animals and about your interest in the welfare of the animals that you eat yet I read about you eating foie gras which is notoriously cruel.
    I just find this difficult to overlook.
    I am a fierce supporter of animal rights and the welfare of livestock and to read about your enjoyment of foie gras repulses me.