Thursday, January 3, 2008

Dilemma of the Ten Dollar Chicken

An organic, free-range local chicken costs at least $10 and is smaller than a supermarket chicken, which can cost as little as $4. I have to go far, spend transportation money and spend extra time to buy the local chicken; I live a 5 minute drive from at least four places where I can buy the supermarket chicken. In addition to this, you really can't be sure exactly what you're getting when you buy the organic chicken. The ideal would be that a chicken labeled "free range" would be wandering around, having a decent life until it is killed humanely as possible. The reality is that you would have to visit the farm to find out. Many "free range" chickens are free to roam but don't because their food is brought to them in their cages. Chickens aren't too bright, but they're smart enough to go to where the food is.

The reality is that the "decision" about which type of chicken to buy is only a decision for people of some means. My household of one can now afford a once a week $10 chicken. My household of five years ago (three people with lower income) probably couldn't have afforded this chicken.

I'm kind of cheap and I love a good sale. Yet I love buying the expensive chicken. A $10 chicken is an important chicken. It needs to be valued, cooked carefully, served to company. Additionally, all of the leftovers need to be used. It seems right that something that lived, had some thoughts and a warm, beating heart should be valued. I get a meal or two out of the chicken before I make it into soup stock, which then gives me at least five more meals. This forces me to eat more fruits and vegetables and more whole grains, so my diet is improved. The truly free-range chicken tastes better. I've read that it tastes more chickeny and I thought that was a silly description until I tasted one myself, and sure enough, it's more chickeny. I'm really torn here. For the reasons listed, I kind of like the idea of the chicken being so expensive. But I also would like more people to be able to enjoy the same (including me 5 years ago). And, right now, it takes me about two and a half hours to buy one of the good chickens. That's a lot of time for anyone.

Right now, I'm hoping that local eating catches on. The price will go up. Local farmers will notice this and start raising more chickens. The price will go back down, but the chickens will be available to all of us in local Farmers' Markets. And maybe, just maybe, the price will go down even more and local eating will not have to be a choice of too few.


Patrick J. Vaz said...

About the $10 chicken -- they may be smaller, but they do taste better, and $10 is actually about what you'd spend on an average supermarket chicken -- you actually have to hunt and wait for specials to get the supermarket chicken for $4. So if you're going to pay the same amount, it makes more sense to get the higher quality (and more flavorful) one. I still have to go for the supermarket bag of beans for 99 cents, though, as opposed to the heritage beans for $5 -- that is, if you can find the plain bags of beans in the Supermarket, buried under all the boxes of semi-prepared processed foods. . . .

vicmarcam said...

Maybe I should have been more specific. If you don't look for sales, which happen at least once a month, you pay about $1.89 a pound. At the farmers' market, you pay $2.99 a pound. If you're spending $10 on a supermarket chicken, then it has been on steroids. I do sometimes see some in that range, but they really are scary big.
One thing that's nice about buying the $10 chicken is that the butcher will cut it up any way you want for no extra cost.
I find myself looking at old movies, where there are good country people with skinny chickens in the yard, and I think to myself, "That's like my $10 chicken."

Patrick J. Vaz said...

How funny -- I always look at those chickens and I think, "Those birds have all been dead a long, long time." Seriously, I do. There's a close-up in Intolerance (1916) of some chickens -- long gone!