Just like everyone else who writes for this blog, I tend to avoid making New Years Resolutions. It seems like a loaded, sentimental effort that for most people tends to not pan out. This year, however, I have been considering my resolution for some time and feel ready to make a sincere commitment. As we enter this new year, I am resolving to stop purchasing poultry at the grocery store.
When I first sat down to write this post I searched for clear-cut health benefits of local, versus factory-farmed poultry (I haven’t eaten or prepared red meat or pork for over twenty years), but I couldn’t find much. Many grocery stores now carry chicken meat that is raised without antibiotics and is not fed animal bi-products. It’s true that factory-farmed poultry tends to have a higher incidence of food-borne illness, but other than that I have struggled to find concrete health-related motivators to buy local. The chicken I can purchase locally is not fed organic, nor is it exclusively grass-fed. The inhumane treatment of factory-farmed meats really is reason enough for me, but since I have been medically somewhat ill for more than the past year, I still felt compelled to identify some sort of health-related reason for this commitment.
Progressively throughout the twentieth century consumerism taught us to worship micro-nutrients, rather than to appreciate the benefits of whole foods. Since the sum of the micro-nutrient parts do not equal a healthier whole, we now have a nation struggling with increasing levels of diabetes, obesity and a slew of other serious health problems. For example, it is better to eat a bowl of plain-old oatmeal than a bowl of sugary cereal advertising added vitamins and minerals with fiber. Similarly, the health-related benefits of local chicken may not all be measurable in shiny, neatly packaged facts, but it is still a better choice for me to buy chicken raised by local farmers. It travels a shorter distance to get to me, it’s fresher, less processed, and really, locally raised poultry is just better food.
The more I thought and read about the benefits of local food, the more I realized the reasons pointed not just to the traditional health factors, but to a healthier lifestyle in general. Going to the farmers market and buying produce and meats from farmers that I chat with and get to know keeps me more connected to my food and my community. With my young daughter at my side I know she is also interacting with the people who have produced the foods she will eat and that connection to her food will, I believe, make her a better person. Together we are helping to support a system of food production that is far more sustainable, and not driven by mass market consumerism.
Truthfully, I started to decrease my purchasing of factory-farmed chicken about two or three months ago. Instead, I’ve been buying whole chickens at the farmers market about every other week and roasting them. This is more of a hassle and more expensive than grabbing a styrofoam package of chicken breasts which can effortlessly be thrown on the grill. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals, but when I do roast a chicken, I know that it is worth the extra effort. This change is challenging for me and my family. We loved the Hannafords brand chicken sausages that were oh-so-convenient for quick stir-fries or breakfast-for-dinner. I will have to challenge myself and not lean quite so often on the easy and quick solutions to dinner and left-overs.
Although roasting a chicken does take more time, now that I’ve been doing it with some frequency I have found that it is actually an easy process. The most difficult part about it for me is having to encounter the reality of a local-farm raised chicken that still has remnants of feathers and blood, because it won’t allow me to forget that I am preparing to consume what was a living being. Although I find this to be kind of gross, it keeps me more in touch with the food I’m eating and in reality locally-raised meats are a whole lot less gross than factory-farmed. In the end the final determinant for me is that the chicken I buy from my local farmer tastes far better than the one I can get at the grocery store.
The more I researched this resolution, the more I realized there are others out there with the same quest. Daniel, a local food blogger, writes about his reflections on meat, where it comes from and on making new years resolutions in his blog Fussy little Blog. Writers like Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Marion Nestle, documentary movies like Food Inc, as well as articles summarized every week in this blog in Christina’s weekly National Reading posts extrapolate on many of the details of the food industry that are increasingly compelling people like me to question the sources of their foods. Factory farmed meats are an important part of a growing health crisis and one way for me to contribute positive change is to take responsibility for what ends up in my refrigerator.