I don’t know how widely watched it has been, but Channel 4 here in the UK have been running a program called Hugh’s Chicken Run where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (of River-Cottage fame) attempted to highlight the plight of “Intensively reared” chickens, and get people eating Free Range. He obviously got the bug from Jamie’s School Dinners by doing the whole “celebrity chef tackles social injustice” thing.
So I was sceptical.
However, he brought-up a number of reasonably valid points.
1. Many people don’t realise how badly the “Intensively reared” chickens are treated.
Now again, I know this is a new blog so you may not know me very well, so lest I give the wrong impression, make no mistake I am a devoutly committed carnivore! I could no more become a vegetarian than start playing football and rolling on the floor crying when a stiff breeze knocked me over.
I have no problem in the concept that animals are dying for my food, and neither would I be too upset by killing what I eat. It is just one of the realities of eating meat.
However, there is a line. I understand that they are not pets so they will not be sitting on the couch any time soon, but there is no need to make them live a life of squalor. Personally I made the decision a long time ago that I don’t eat Veal. I think that it involves un-necessary cruelty. I know that that might not seem like much of a commitment, but Veal is supposed to be lovely. Foie grasse is also supposed to be a fine delicacy, but again it lies on the wrong side of that line for me. I repeat this now, I only have an opinion of what I should or should not eat.
So why do I employ double standards and accept that chickens are kept in such horrendous conditions? Is it because I distinguish between birds and mammals? I don’t think so, it is probably more because I didn’t care to think about it. The thing is unlike veal and foie grasse this is not being done for the lofty goal of creating a masterpiece of culinary delight, it is being done to save a few pennies here and there and for some reason I kind of think that’s worse.
2. The Supermarkets are packaging these “Intensively reared” chickens with pictures of a grassy field on a sunny day.
These chickens never even see sunlight, let alone set foot on grass. They live in a gigantic shed with 16 other chickens per square metre. They get sores from not being able to move out of their own waste. They have been bred to be too fat for their legs to support their own weight. They would not be able to walk on the grass, even if you let them.
3. The free range chickens are better
Not only did the chickens look healthier in life, they looked better on the plate. It is not about giving these chickens a wonderful life before we eat them, it is just a matter of not treating them quite so horrendously for the matter of a few pence per bird.
So last night Mrs Geek asked me to find out the price difference, and I must admit that it is not as much as I expected, but it is difficult to compare. Using Asda as my source I found
ASDA Extra Special Free Range whole chicken was £3.00 per Kg
ASDA Whole chicken ranged from £2.18 – £2.48 per Kg depending on size (little chickens cost more ?!?).
Smartprice chicken £1.69 per Kg
So comparing ASDA Extra Special Free Range to the Smartprice chicken there is a big price difference. But this is comparing apples to oranges (well, maybe more like Coke to Asda Cola). The difference between ASDA Extra Special Free Range and the ASDA Whole chicken the price difference was a more palatable premium of about 25%.
The problem is that not only do these chickens cost more to rear (which is true), they are only available in the high margin range, there is no bargain range for the Free range chickens. If more people eat free range it would not take long before the supermarkets would address this, but for now if we want free range we have to pay for it.
So, am I converted … maybe, maybe not … but at least I am now informed. However convincing me was not the battle required. Alas Mrs Geek and I suspect that any chickens entering our house from now on are likely to have seen the light of day, the wind in it’s feathers and the grass beneath its feet.
And if not tomorrow Jamie is coming on to reinforce the message in Jamie’s Fowl Dinners
So much for being on a budget