Secret Chicken Cabal! (#realfood #wapf)
Yesterday we, along with about 10-12 other people, met to discuss costs, work, and other things involved with setting up a cooperative effort to raise and process chickens for food. Turns out the cost isn't too bad, and neither is the work. Chickens are pretty darn simple animals, and don't need a ton of care. You need two "major" pieces of equipment to process them. One, a scalder and two, a plucking machine. Each of them can be built for around $500 each, for a total of $1,000. If we do this, we're planning to split the costs between 10 families, which makes the per-family investment only $100. Not bad!
"Why the heck would you want to raise and process chickens!?? You can buy chicken from Walmart for under a buck a pound!!!!", you say? Yeah, that's true. You can. And for a lot of families, that's fine. I'm glad that basically life-sustaining food is available to most people here in America for such low prices. I'm aware of how those animals are raised, kept, and processed. It is horrifying? Eh, well, sure, kind of. But, I'm aware, and fully accept that we humans are far and away the apex predators of the world. We're so far at the top of the food chain that we've made it such that most of us don't even have to predate anything. It's all done for us on a huge scale.
But, there's a growing realization out there that the food produced in this manner may not necessarily be the absolute best thing we could feed ourselves. It's important to realize that the food we eat is what our bodies use to build and repair us, and it also controls a lot of the chemistry in our bodies. Most of how we feel, brain-wise, is controlled by the chemicals our various glands and such secrete into our bloodstreams. Doesn't it then make sense, if we can, to feed ourselves the absolute best things we can? I believe it does!
"But isn't chicken, chicken?" Maybe not. Just as our bodies use the food we eat to build us, so it is with the animals we eat. The things they eat "become" them, just as the things we eat "become" us. Chickens evolved to run off a rather varied diet. They're supposed to live in a field, and roam around said field eating basically all kinds of stuff. Plants, bugs, you name it. Not to mention they also need sunlight (just like we do!) to synthesize vitamin D, an important hormone (yes, hormone). Industrially raised chickens have none of this. They never receive sunlight, and they're fed an engineered diet that is designed simply to raise them to "market weight" as quickly as possible, while making sure they don't die before they get to said weight. It's far worse with cows, since they have very, very special dietary needs that are very much NOT met by industrial feed, but still... Chickens are not optimally raised either.
Even if you don't believe there's any difference nutrition-wise, there's still the issue of taste. I first figured it out when I worked with a Muslim man back in California. He used to bring me food from his Mosque. It was damn good - and in particular the chicken tasted WAY different from any chicken I'd ever had. I asked him if they used a special breed of chicken, and he said that no, the taste was because of the Muslim method of slaughtering. Done by hand, and in a way that reduces the suffering of the animal. All I knew was wow, it tasted way better. Turns out there's a lot of science backing that up. You scare, mistreat, generally piss off, an animal, and it secretes a bunch of stress hormones into its body, and it turns out... they don't make the meat taste good.
So, basically, it either tastes better, or it tastes better and IS way better for you. We believe both.
We've already been eating pasture-raised chickens; we get them from the same farm we have our cowshare with, and we like the taste a lot. So, when we were offered the chance to participate in this co-op, we jumped at the chance.
There is also another benefit to being involved with this - one that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with raising and ganking chickens. All of these people are interested in what has become known as "real food." And local food. And making, rather than outright consuming, food. One of them is involved with the local homebrewing club - and we're about to begin our adventurers as homebrewers, too. A couple of them make cheese often. One of the families seem to be very musical - and we're also looking to begin taking music lessons. All of these people know where to acquire various harder-to-find food items. We're all valuable resources to each other, and can all help each other in various ways; it's very, very fortunate to be able to communicate with each other.
No conclusion was made on whether or not to actually go forward with the project. It's too late in the season to actually do any birds anyway. We could get the equipment built over the winter, and likely will, if we decide to do it. All of the other families have raised chickens for eggs before, and have the land to raise chickens on their own land. We do not, and it's not legal to keep chickens in our city limits anyway. We'd have to share land with one of the other families - and I think that's not a problem. However, even if we DON'T go forward with Project Gankachicken, we now have a more "formal" network of local Real Foodities, a real food tribe, so to speak. And that just might be more valuable than the chicken project, in the long term.
Oh, and all the food that was brought was very good, too. :)
Thanks, Brent and Elizabeth, for making this happen!
Right on, Jon! What a great post about food. I really enjoyed reading it, and also having you and Lizz out to our place yesterday. Let’s do that again soon!