A friend and I were discussing family reunions recently when the conversation turned to food, as it should. We talked about how the various dishes were always home cooked and tasted better than any food we could remember to this day. That evening while preparing dinner I glanced over at my treasured cook books, a lot of them are older ones, my favorite is titled Virginia Housekeeping circa 1870. It dawned on me that the recipes I had made from this particular book would pale in comparison to the taste they had when prepared by the cooks of that era. They churned their own butter in their homes from cows grazing on grass in their fields. The fresh milk from these cows was stored in glass jars in ice boxes. Vegetables grew in their gardens without pesticides. Families and children pulled the worms and bugs off the leaves and stems of their fruits and veggies. The chicken in their frying pan had been eating corn and meal under the front stoop that morning for breakfast and probably had names like Brooster and Henpecked.
My friend and I had discussed chicken in particular that day. She said her grandmother raised chickens and she never understood why she couldn't get her chicken to taste like her grandmother's even though she used the same recipe.
The answer is mass farming. Genetically altered chicken. David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, said that antibiotics are used in chicken feed for three reasons: To treat disease, To prevent diseases and to increase the chicken’s growth rate.
This last one is the biggest concern to Kessler, because using antibiotics to increase a chicken’s size is an abuse of antibiotics and can increase drug resistance. Back in the 1950's, it took chickens 85 days to reach maturity, whereas now, chicken’s reach maturity in 47 days. The way corporate America looks at it, the bigger the chicken and the faster it can get to the large size, the more profits for them.
Now here's my theory about what goes at the grocery store. I can buy that six pound mass farmed bird all day long or it's parts for as low as 79 cents a pound. Or, I can go down the road a little piece and buy an organic, three pound, born free bird that cost $2.89 a pound.
Then there's the more for your money scenario. I bought an ~All Natural~ chicken not long ago at the grocery store, I was going to be home alone for a few days. First, "All Natural", as opposed to "Not So Natural?" Well, I was hungry, that's a fight for another day. Ok, I get this bird home and let me tell you, there is nothing natural about getting 3 meals out of one chicken breast.
When your chicken can pose as Chicken frisky instead of Chicken Fricassee, you may have a altered bird. I prefer my chicken to have the svelte legs and thighs of a bridge runner. After reading The Omnivore's Dilema by Michael Pollan, I have given my food considerably more thought.
I am positively giddy in the early summer when the fresh fruits and vegetables hit the shelves. But my joy has been lackluster of late. I cringe when I see sixteen inch cucumbers and squash, two pound tomatoes and blueberries the size of nickels. I am disgusted at cucumbers so waxed that they stick to my hands when I pick them up like flypaper.
I have to admit that I am a fruit aisle forager. I can zip the bag, fold it over and hide it under my bread from myself. But, by isle three I am pulling it out to taste the grapes, blueberries or cherries. Yes, I know that they aren't washed yet. I rub the heck out of them before I toss them in my mouth. It's not like I eat a pound of them before I hit the register. I just don't want to get home and throw a tasteless bag of grapes away. Some of the labeling options we have to choose from are ridiculous. They tout the appealing and disguise the disturbing. Maybe the antonyms are not so alluring on the packaging? Free Range as opposed to caged up and never seen sunlight? Organic as to Un-organic? Natural as to un-natural? Minimally Processed as to overly processed? No growth hormones added as to growth hormones added? Injected with 20% solution as to non-invaded meat?
We shouldn't have to choose to go to a whole foods or natural food store. But what is more disturbing to me is the fact that what we can or cannot eat is directly related to our income. Can I afford the twelve dollar organic chicken from Whole Foods this week? Or do I get the Bi-Lo on sale for 79 cents per pound? I have been interested for years in eating healthier less processed and more natural foods, but it does bother me that what I purchase for my family is determined by my paycheck.