As you all know, I run an underground restaurant here in Dallas with the stunning Jennie Kelley. We met on the set of MasterChef and have become incredibly close friends. FRANK is a celebration of fresh, local, sustainable food. And for our upcoming French-themed Bastille day dinners, our main course is coq au vin, a classic French dish which traditionally consists of an older rooster (which tends to be tough and stringy but BURSTING with old-fashioned chicken flavor that you never get these days), stewed long and slow in red wine, which makes the meat tender and juicy.
Rather than tromp to the grocery store and purchase a hermetically sealed styrofoam package with mass-produced chicken, we located a farm in nearby McKinney, Texas, where Farmer William had an overabundance of organic, free range roosters. (Roosters don’t lay eggs, and basically just fight with each other and terrorize the hens, so roosters are often used for meat on the farm. Most of the chicken breast you get at the grocery store is actually from a castrated rooster called a capon…more on grocery store chicken in a moment.) So this morning I got up and drove out to McKinney to hand-pick a dozen roosters for our table at FRANK this weekend. Shortly after arriving on the farm, I posted this on Facebook:
Immediately I was accosted by furious posts. (I knew I would be, but not to this extent.) Here are some examples of what was written:
Not all the comments were so hasty. I appreciated this one from my fan Nicole:
I am, however, supremely confused as to how this photo conveys “Ha ha guess who’s dinner tonight?” As you all well know, I’m a very verbose person, and if I typed in my Facebook post what you’re about to read in this blog, no one would even start to read it because it would be 4 pages long. However, I thought it quite obvious that I’m showing supreme respect for the ingredients I cook with by traveling an hour to an organic chicken farm to select happy, healthy chickens, give them an honorable and quick death, and serve them to people I care about.
Before I wax poetic on my philosophy about eating meat, I’ll let some of my fans do the work for me:
A bit abrupt, and not too philosophic, but most definitely true. Chickens aren’t very self-aware creatures, as any farmer knows. But the chicken wouldn’t even exist today outside the forests of Asia had humans not domesticated them and selectively bred them over centuries. These types of chickens only exist because humans eat them.
This is my fan Tim Brooks who is a talented chef in Chicago. He, too, has an interesting perspective on meat, as he works in a meat store. On his blog, Mulligan Soup, he describes a visit to a lamb slaughterhouse, which you may find insightful. I love that line “Showing a completed dish is never the whole story.” This could be a bulletin board. And I’ll get on that subject in a moment.
Of course I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to the animal in any way. Yes, there’s a great big smile on my face. Do you honestly think it’s because I’m DELIGHTED that I’m about to take a life? If you do, you don’t know me at all. It’s not fun slaughtering any animal. It’s tough. I take a moment of silence to thank the animal for sacrificing its life so that we can have sustenance and live. It gives its life to further life. That smile on my face is because I am thrilled to be participating OUTSIDE the mass-meat-production chain. Mass produced chickens live horrible, miserable lives of torture and are electrocuted to death and butchered by machines before you buy them without thinking twice for $1.99 a pound on sale. I am supporting the livelihood of a local farmer who is raising his chickens with care and respect, giving them an honorable and respectful death YEARS after they would die in a meat factory, and recycling EVERY bit of that chicken. (The heads and feet are simmering to make stock on my stove right now, and the feathers are in my compost pile to nourish my garden next year.)
You all know Tony Scruggs from MasterChef season 2. He was one of my favorite people on the show. I’ve been to his farm in Illinois where he raises turkeys and chickens for meat and has an incredible garden. In fact, while I was there I demonstrated my method for hynpotizing poultry, which relaxes them. I usually do this before slaughter so that they are calm and peaceful.
And, like Tony said, I’m not sure you nay-sayers understand exactly HOW MUCH I LOVE CHICKENS. I adore them. I kiss them on the mouth, for Heaven’s sake. I would never glorify in their death for the purpose of making people laugh. But I WILL REVEL in sharing with you all photos of what a happy, healthy, free range chicken looks like, so that you understand exactly how important it is for chickens to live that kind of life, rather than a factory life of terror and misery.
My girl, Crystal. I’m willing to bet my house that most of the nay-sayer posts were from meat eaters. Because virtually all of the vegans, vegetarians, and pescetarians I know are very tolerant, educated people. Here we’ve got someone who DOESN’T eat chicken, but who really gets everything that was meant behind my post. I adore you, Crystal.
Indeed. The chicken you buy in the grocery store is mass produced. Roosters are castrated (caponized) which causes their breasts to grow abnormally large. Then they are force-fed antibiotics which causes dramatic meat production. They live their entire life in small cages, crammed in with 3 other roosters. (Do you know what roosters do when caged with each other? They fight.) So they spent their entire lives cramped, panicked, fighting for their lives. Often they are fed antidepressants to calm them down and reduce fighting. They are slaughtered for meat anywhere from 1 month to 6 months of age. Have you seen the size of boneless skinless breasts in the grocery store? A normal free range farm chicken can live 5 years and never have breasts HALF the size of what you see in the store. Storebought chicken meat is abnormal and comes from tortured animals. Free range, small farm chickens are allowed to live their lives naturally. You are exercising SUPREME respect for meat when you get your chickens from a small producer right on the farm.
Thanks, Jamie. And that is exactly what I’m trying to do with my posts about meat animals. To show you that your steak or chicken breast or pork chop once had a head…probably a fairly cute one. So don’t treat meat with callous disrespect by buying it just anywhere, or by throwing away leftovers that you didn’t eat. A living, breathing, probably-adorable animal GAVE ITS LIFE for you to eat that fried chicken finger. So let’s understand that, because it makes us think twice about where it comes from and what kind of life it led.
Susan knows! It’s not pleasant being exposed to revolting information about something as common as the meat you eat every day of your life, but it’s the truth, and it’s time for our country to realize that our industrial meat production system, which we’ve had since World War II, is making us unhealthy, and is colossally cruel to animals. Most other first-world countries (and virtually ALL developing countries) still raise animals on a small scale with diets that emulate their diets in nature.
That’s Kris, and if you can’t tell, he’s a character. He was almost cast on MasterChef this season, and you’ll be seeing him on TV some day soon. He’s a great chef with a big personality, and he speaks the truth…in his own special, sarcastic way.
Folks…I understand that this is an uncomfortable situation. The fact is, MOST people who live in urban surroundings are honestly not comfortable with the fact that they eat meat. Which is sad to me, for starters, but downright dangerous. Deliberately not wanting to face the fact that animals die for you to eat meat leads to a complete ignorance of the industry that produces meat. So they can just go on without criticism, because people don’t REALLY want to know what goes on behind those factory doors.
The food chain exists in nature. Whether you subscribe to a religion that defines your food chain for you, or whether you subscribe to no religion and simply choose to observe the life on this amazing planet…the food chain exists. Humans are, by nature, omnivores, and have been since the dawn of our race. Meat is part of our life. Our ancestors hunted. Then they learned that some animals could be domesticated and actually improved, and that’s where we get chickens, sheep, cows, goats, and pigs. These animals would have been long extinct had we not taken them into our farms and given them a purpose in life.
I do not believe it is a crime to eat meat. (Some will argue with me, and I completely respect their decision to not eat meat.) But I grew up on a farm where we ate the animals we raise…and no, it was not easy for a 6 year old to lose his favorite pet lamb, and later be told that the lamb chops he was eating came from his pet. But I learned from an early age that THIS IS THE WAY IT IS. So it’s our responsibility as humans to give these animals the best life they can live, slaughter them respectfully and quickly, and use every bit of their body possible to help sustain and improve life for ourselves and our families.
Please think before you make a rash comment about meat. If you’re uncomfortable seeing a living animal that you know is going to later be eaten, you need to take a close look at what you really believe, and if it’s even appropriate for you to be eating meat in the first place.
For me, I will NOT STOP spreading the message that meat comes from living, breathing creatures who must die for us to eat. And I will continue to make my choices in such a way that local farmers can make a living raising meat animals with respect and care, and so that industrial meat producers realize that there IS an alternate option for virtually everyone in this country.
If you’d like to find a local source for meat, you can often find it at your Farmer’s Market. Also, surf over to http://craigslist.org and type in “chicken” or “beef.” I guarantee, in the farm section, you’ll find a local farmer that’s selling meat from his farm. It may not be legal (which is a TRUE crime), but it will taste better, and probably be CHEAPER than the regular industrial meat you buy on sale at the grocery store. These farmers often have weekend sales where you can buy a dozen cleaned and packaged chickens, bring them home and toss them in your freezer, and you’ve got incredible chicken for a month. Yes, it’s out of your way. But I can’t tell you how much you’ll be glad you did it. And your food will taste infinitely better, too. All that…and you can go to bed with a conscience that knows you made the RIGHT CHOICE for yourself, your family, your farmer, and his animals.
(If you would like to delver further into this matter, I highly recommend the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. It is incredible.)