Next to turkey, which is sadly not so popular and readily available in Japan, chicken is my go-to meat source, a favorite since childhood. I love it in soups, stews, stir-frys, broiled, grilled, pounded flat and stuffed, wrapped in (clean) bacon…it is so versatile I haven’t tired of it or the numerous ways to prepare it. I’m not the only one; chicken is extremely popular in the U.S. and throughout the world. But recently, with the growth of industrial farming or “factory farms”, the chickens being raised and sold today live and die in an intensive, cruel, profit-not-quality driven atmosphere, which is fueled by public desire for cheap protein sources and allowed to flourish due to ignorance of the damaging affects of commercial farming, both to human, animal, and environmental health.
There are two types of chicken farms, one for eggs and one for meat. Chickens raised for meat are referred to as “broiler” chickens. Worldwatch Institute states that 74% of the world’s poultry meat and 68% of the world’s egg supply are raised in “intensive” (read: factory farm) conditions. Egg-laying hens are kept in tight mesh cages and broilers are crammed into indoor warehouses with appalling lack of space and hygiene conditions. And by lack of space, I mean that the chickens are unable to move, effectively imprisoned and left to suffer, leading to abnormal behavior. Organic labels may provide slightly higher welfare than the standard conditions, but the safest bet for selecting eggs or meat is finding chickens that are locally-raised (reducing transport and environmental impact) and free-range. This means birds are allowed to wander outside freely, but protected at night from predators and weather in a more traditional, iconic “coop”.
Since labels can’t really be trusted, the most important thing about sourcing any food – produce, poultry, meat – is to ASK. Be an informed consumer; know what goes into your body and also let others know – your grocery store, restaurants, food suppliers – that you care about quality food and how food production affects the environment. “Organic” and “cage-free” have become meaningless labels to upsell products. A local farmer may not be able to afford USDA organic certification, but he or she may not use any pesticides or growth hormones. So buying local may be better than buying organic. And that organic lime you just bought? Maybe it’s being organically grown in Mexico’s Baja desert. Citrus in a desert?! Talk about environmental destruction and depletion of water resources. Similarly, “cage-free” can mean that yes, chickens are not in individual cages, but still crammed into giant, warehouse style factories where they suffer from painful debeaking.
Reasons to pay a little more for free-range, locally-farmed chicken:
- You know exactly where your meat is coming from and what goes into it. At the same time, you are supporting the local economy and developing relationships with your food suppliers.
- Free-range chickens are not forced to live in their own feces, which can hasten the spread of E.coli.
- Intensively farmed chickens suffer from leg burns, from walking in ammonia-high feces, and are often deformed because they are bred to have abnormally large breasts. Do you really want to eat a deformed, disease-ridden bird?
- For those with gluten or soy intolerances, commercial chicken feed may contain gluten, soy, and genetically-modified corn, which can cause a reaction when eating chicken eggs or meat.
- Even for those without allergens, commercial chicken feed may contain arsenic!!!
- Compassion. Some of us may eat animals, but we can do it the right way. “Nature is red in tooth and claw”, which means animals, by natural processes, eat other animals. But only humans have found a way to exploit species for profit. Broiler chickens are so overcrowded in commercial factory farms that chicks are often “debeaked” one day after birth, purportedly to protect against fighting, feather pecking, and cannibalism (conditions which are caused by the very same system of overcrowding). This “beak-trimming” has been shown to be extremely painful and causes chronic pain for the rest of the chicken’s short life. Food should be nourishing for body and soul, and there is no way our souls are nourished by supporting this type of farming.
So, what to do? Find local sources! Educate yourself! Just ask – it is really as simple as that. My dad always says, “Ask and you shall receive”, and I can tell you, I have never been turned down or turned away when I inquire about my food. I may choose not to eat it upon finding out the origin, but the choice is mine. I’ve always been able to get information in a friendly and non-confrontational way. It is true that local or free-range chicken may be more expensive, but think of what you are saving in the long run: your health, the environment, local economy, and also preventing cruelty towards another living creature. I’d rather pay a little more money for quality food than wind up paying a small fortune for pills, medicines, and treatment for my cancer-ridden, disease-filled, E.coli hosting self. And really? It just tastes better.
Community-supported agriculture (CSAs) is a great way to get local meat at a better price:
Compassion in World Farming
As I mentioned in my last post, buying less meat and thinking of it more as a side dish is beneficial for your health and eases the demand on the food supply. In this salad, the chicken adds definite flavor, but the bulk of it is hearty roasted vegetables, which provide volume and nutrients in a healthful, low-calorie package. You can also simply omit the chicken and enjoy veggie-rific meal without missing a beat. Maybe even mix in some chickpeas?! It was inspired by the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen’s Balsamic Roasted Chicken. I think, however, the onions were my favorite part!
Balsamic Roasted Vegetable & Chicken Salad
4 chicken breasts and wings, or 2 thigh and leg pieces
2 large onions, cut into rings
4 red bell peppers, cut into slices
1 large head of broccoli
2 medium turnips, chopped into thumb-sized chunks
1/2 large kabocha squash, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
large lettuce leaves, optional, for serving
My oven is very small, so I had to roast in two batches, first the chicken then the veggies. If you have a conventional US oven, I imagine you could start the vegetables first in a separate pan, then remove that pan when you turn down the oven for the chicken.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a 9 x 13 inch or large roasting pan, lay down chicken and onions in single layer. If there is more onion leftover, save it to roast with the other vegetables. Pour 1/4 c of balsamic vinegar over the top of the chicken and onions. Roast for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then turn down the heat to 375 and cook for another 10 minutes. If you are using chicken breasts, they should be done by now, but if you are using bone-in meat or dark meat, you may need another 5-15 minutes. Use a meat thermometer if you are unsure. Once the chicken has cooled slightly, chop into bite-size pieces, or whatever shape matches the vegetables best.
Chop all the vegetables accordingly, except the broccoli, and mix together. You can use the same pan from the chicken and add the remaining 1/4 of balsamic vinegar. Roast for 25 minutes at 425 degrees – the vegetables should hold their shape but be soft enough to be pierced with a fork. Cut the broccoli after the vegetables are finished cooking. If you chop it beforehand it will cook too quickly and become soft and mushy.
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl or serving platter and pour any remaining sauce from the pan over the top. This is a good make-ahead meal as you can roast everything the day before and then simply warm it up in the oven the next day. You can also serve with this simple lime dressing below – it was a huge hit at my ladies lunch party. Just serve the dressing on the side, especially if you are making the salad ahead of time. Enjoy!
Simple Lime Vinaigrette
juice of 4 limes (about 1/4 c)
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
1 t dijon mustard
1 t Herbamare , or other herbal salt
Add all the ingredients to a glass jar, screw the lid on tightly, and shake until emulsified. You can also mix with a whisk and bowl, but the jar method is so much more fun. I like things pretty mustard-y, so I added another teaspoon, but start with one and taste first, adding more if you’d like. Extras are great on green salads and fish as well.