Posts Tagged ‘CAFO’

The Meaty Issue


This year I decided to raise some meat chickens. I had several reasons for doing so, including that I had some ideas for how to feed chickens to maximize their omega-3 content and how to fit them into a very small operation. But the real and primary reason is that I felt that, if I planned to continue eating meat (and I do,) it was time to take direct responsibility for where meat comes from. In short, and not to put too fine a point on it, I needed to kill some of my meat myself to continue eating it with a clear conscience.
I was already aware that this decision would get a lot of negative reactions. Back 25 years ago when I had a sheep farm, I had plenty of opportunity to observe peoples’ discomfort with where their food comes from. Visitors would ask me in righteous horror “how I could bear to eat them” and would assure me that they themselves were “far too sensitive” to do such a thing. I should add that they were not, for the most part, vegetarians. These were people who ate meat, often on a daily basis, but never associated the elegant and expensive legs of lamb they got at Manhattan’s premium butchers with the animals cavorting around my barnyard. I developed the habit of shrugging and saying “The meat that you eat doesn’t come from volunteers.” It made no impression whatsoever.
I’ve had a chance to see this again with my meat chickens. I know now that there isn’t much point in talking to visitors about where the meat in all grocery stores, even the best, comes from. My only wish is that I could lead each of these people by the hand into a commercial broiler raising operation, and into the “processing plant” where such chickens are turned into neatly wrapped packages. I visited an operation like that once, and to this day I still won’t eat commercial chicken if I have any choice about it.
If I could be granted one wish with regard to the national diet and character, it would be that every single person who eats meat from the standard confined animal feeding operations comes to understand clearly what that means, and the appalling costs to the animals, the environment, and our own ability to comprehend clearly where our food comes from. The late Carla Emory quoted her then-husband as saying “If more people butchered their own meat, there would be a lot less war, because more citizens would understand what killing really means.” Amen to that. Pretending that it doesn’t happen because it happens somewhere else simply won’t work forever, with food or war or anything else. And that’s why it was so important to me to participate in every aspect of putting meat on our table. And when I did? Well, I was filled with gratitude for the roles that animals play in our lives, and for the opportunity to understand clearly where the meat on my table comes from. There’s nothing special about my circumstances; anyone with a little bit of yard can have the same experience. If you’re willing to leave a comment with your own thoughts and/or experiences with producing meat, I’d love to hear about it.
P.S. It was delicious, and every bit will be used. It’s too precious to waste.

Kitchen Staples: Ethical Chicken

Recently a friend came to visit me and I proudly led her to the back of the yard to see my six beautiful hens in their secure coop. Instead of admiring them, she was dismayed because “They’re so crowded.” I must admit that I was floored. I have six hens in a 4 foot by 7 foot coop, with lots of headroom and high perches, and I think my chickens have it good.   Upon questioning, it was clear that she buys her chickens and eggs from the grocery store and has no idea what conditions in a commercial chicken operation are like. So here are some images to ponder: In the best possible commercial set-up, laying hens would have a square foot per bird. That means 28 chickens in my coop instead of six. More likely, there would be 4 hens for every 3 square feet, or 36 birds in my coop. Up to 42 hens would be in it in some operations, and they would be in cages no more than a foot high, often less, so that the hens couldn’t even straighten out their necks, but stacking the cages would enable 5 layers of birds to be kept in my 28 square feet, or up to 210 birds total, since my coop is 5 feet high.  Broiler chickens are even more crowded, if you can imagine such a thing, and the stench is hellish. I refuse to discuss the slaughter practices, because I don’t care to remind myself. When I had my sheep farm , I lived near a broiler operation, and I didn’t eat chicken again for years. If you comfort yourself by buying “free range” chicken, think again; a 20′ X 20′ yard may be the “range” for a barn holding 20,000 to 30,000 chickens.  If you want to be realistic about commercial farming practices, I urge you to read Michael Pollan’s best book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Be aware that, by the end, you will feel driven to change your habits if you haven’t already.

All too often, people refuse to think about where their meat comes from and how it’s killed for a simple reason; they would have to drastically change their eating habits if they let themselves acknowledge what goes on in standard CAFO operations. I don’t care to perpetuate such cruelties, and so I am starting my own laying flock and I get my meat chicken from Pollo Real at the Santa Fe farmers’ market. They are a pasture operation, which means that the chickens are kept on pasture in “yurts” which are moved frequently. They are fed grain and they eat plants, insects, and all the things that chicken should eat. They have plenty of room. They re slaughtered on the farm, quickly and humanely. They cost a lot more than supermarket chicken, and they should. They are better for you and yours, better for the chickens, and better for the planet. Paying more makes us realize that we have to pay to support humane farming practices, and that meat should be a pleasant addition to a meal rather than the center of it.

Better ethics and a better dinner; this is well worth an occasional trip to Santa Fe with a cooler, or look for Pollo Real chicken at La Montanita Co-op. Once you have some, there are a million ways to cook it, but here’s a simple favorite: just rub it with a paste made from a few clove of fresh garlic, a teaspoon of salt for every pound of chicken, a tablespoon of Spanish Pimenton de la Vera or smoked paprika, the juice of half a lemon, and enough olive oil to make  a paste. Grill it over a low fire until done to your taste, brushing with any leftover paste. Serve with lots of vegetables and whole grains. Sleep like a baby.

And, just for fun, here’s my own chicken flock.

Kitchen Staples: Pasta and Eggs, and notes on what makes a good egg.

If you’re a lover of pasta carbonara, you know the rich and lovely taste of egg yolks on pasta. This time of year, if you don’t have chickens yourself (I don’t yet), the farmers markets are full of beautiful eggs with deep orange yolks, and wonderful impromptu meals can be made from them. This one is warm and comforting, but has a little zing to it. You can have it on the table in 30 minutes or less. If you always have pasta, high-quality olive oil, good Parmesan, and anchovies around, you’re never more than 30 minutes (tops) from a good meal. Good eggs in season send the combination over the top.


You will need a small, heavy skillet or clay dish (my preference) with a cover. Clay needs to be heated slowly, so if you’re using it, start heating it over low heat about 15 minutes before you want to start cooking the eggs.

Ingredients: for 2 very generous servings, start with 4 very good eggs, about 6 oz. of spaghetti or linguini, 2 small anchovy fillets (very necessary for the bold flavor of the dish), 3 tablespoons of good olive , 2 cloves of garlic chopped, a few tablespoons of chopped parsley (plus more for garnish if you like,) an ounce or two of the best Parmesan you can find, and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (more if they’re mild.)

Start cooking the garlic slowly in the olive oil, over medium heat, while the salted water for the pasta is coming to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the anchovy fillets very finely or pound them in a mortar until they’re paste-like. Stir them into the saute’ing garlic and cook the mixture until the garlic is soft through but not browned. Lower the heat under the skillet and stir in the red pepper. Break the eggs into the skillet a few minutes after you add the pasta to the boiling salted water. Splash a couple of teaspoons of water into the skillet (this makes a little steam to lightly cook the top of the eggs,) cover the skillet tightly, and let it sit over low heat until the eggs are done to your liking. Make sure the yolks stay soft. When done to taste, take the skillet off the heat. Heavy iron or clay will keep them hot. Open the cover so that they don’t overcook.
When the pasta is ready, drain it, toss it very quickly with the cheese, another tablespoon or so of olive oil, and the chopped parsley. Put in warmed bowls and top each with two of the eggs. Pour the garlic/anchovy/red pepper mixture left in the skillet over the top.
At the table, break the yolks, stir them into the pasta a little, and revel in simplicity and ease.
This dish accomodates whole wheat spaghetti if you like it.

Regarding those eggs, I advise buying at the farmers market whenever possible. To have a good life and make good eggs, chickens should run around outside and have access to plants and bugs, not run around a giant stinking building with a tiny outdoor yard, mostly unused by the chickens, that allows the manufacturer (and I use that term advisedly) to call its product “free range.” Don’t support a CAFO with the misimpression that you are getting truly good eggs. Really good eggs come from small producers and backyard growers and are not found at the grocery store. Be sure to bring the cartons back when you empty them, because the small growers pay too much for them and are usually eager to reuse them.