Sunday, July 08, 2012

Regarding chicken, "free range" organic chicken that costs a fortune, in particular. I had to clean and prep these chickens for roasting when I worked at the health food store. I've had to clean, prep and roast standard whole chickens when I worked in the deli of the mainstream grocery store. I'm here to tell you that the two types of chickens are mostly the same thing. Not entirely, but mostly. Here's why:

They're both, in all likelihood, some variation of the same breed, White Cornish Rock. This breed has been overbred for fast growth and laying on massive amounts of meat. They grow so quickly that their bones can't hold up. The leg bones break and crumble beneath the weight of the chicken. It is very common when dressing or preparing these birds, to encounter broken drumsticks. They are extremely inactive- they just sit in front of the feeder and eat. In order to qualify as "free range", a bird doesn't actually have to log any sort of mileage. Nobody checks to make sure that they take a walk onto green grass. All "free range" means is that they have a little door open to an outside pen, even if that pen is tiny and has no grass at all. These birds are bred to be morbidly obese and very inactive, so they don't go walking around in grass, even if it were there, which it isn't. They eat organic, vegetarian feed and receive no antibiotics, and that's pretty much all it takes for them to qualify as organic, however far removed their life might be from what the consumer imagines when they're paying 2-3 times as much for it. You don't even want to know about "organic, free range" turkeys....

Here's what I think: the White Cornish Rock chicken is not a breed that should be allowed to be branded organic. This is a breed that is so overbred that it rarely lives over a year old. That's not humane and it certainly isn't sustainable. There are numerous other heritage breeds that are quite meaty that have been risking breed extinction thanks to the White Cornish Rock. There are breeds that can walk around and make a meaty carcass without collapsing under the weight of their own flesh. Part of being certified organic should be that the breed of chicken, vegetable or whatever is sustainable and healthy enough to make it without artificial growing conditions.

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