Free Range Chicken

Times are tough – but I urge you to think twice about buying cheap meat. For the sake of this article – I am specifying chicken – do not buy cheaply. Buy Free Range Chicken.

 Hattie Ellis’s compassionate condemnation, Planet Chicken exposes the atrocious practices of modern poultry farming.

You would be horrified if you looked into the darkest corner of the global poultry shed – you would ask what the f**k are we doing. Please put this on your reading list. 

There are 'enriched' cages that give birds more space; 'barn-reared', which means they can perch and scratch around but can't leave the building; and 'free range' systems, which means there have to be exits.

Normal chicken behaviour includes pecking and scratching for insects and for the tiny pebbles and particles the birds need to collect in their gizzards to mill their food, taking dust baths to rid the feathers and skin of mites; and perching.

In 2012, Europe banned cages, but most producers simply switched to one of the aforementioned reprehensible systems. And this deals only with the 30 million laying hens in Britain; it does not affect the 860 million broilers raised here every year for their meat.

 The animal-rights activists can't be bothered with such an unglamorous a cause as the billions of birds whose welfare is sacrificed to put cheap chicken on our plates (could there be an element of class warfare in their foie gras fomentations?).

How many times a week do you eat chicken? At least once, the UK consumes 900 million chickens each year. 

Theoretically, we should be a nation of chicken connoisseurs; comparing and talking about chicken in a similar way we do wine or steak. 

We should be seeking that perfect combination of a firm texture, with a deep flavour reflective of the environment the chicken has been reared in. A combination that tells you the chicken has grown at a natural pace and has been fed a nutritionally rich diet that will nourish you and whoever you’re feeding.

Yet, despite the huge quantities we consume – or perhaps partly because of it – our feelings towards poultry more closely resemble that of a selfish lover than an appreciative lover.

We have let our standards slip and have come to accept sub-standard chicken as doing the job of filling a salad and filling a sandwich.

This has especially been the case since chicken, marketed as “high in protein and low in fat”, has become the go-to option for many diets and fitness regimes. Those couped up chickens that are cheap are pretty high in antibiotics, a fact that’s widely regarded as a cause of the worrying resistance to the drugs in humans.

There are two types of chicken:

Genetically bred to grow at a speed so unnatural it is the equivalent to a newborn baby weighing 28 stone by its third birthday. This chicken is typically reared indoors and slaughtered at just 35 days old, by which time it can barely walk. 

Grows at a much more natural pace and has stronger legs, so it can roam free for its whole life. These birds can live for more than double the amount of time, which means there is more texture and depth of flavour to the meat.

There is a price difference, but everybody wins – the animal, the farmer, the customer and the environment.

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