The table was set with my mother’s China. The carefully roasted chicken was sliced and arranged on her Royal Albert Old Country Rose platter for effect. My children were fidgeting in their seats anticipating a favorite meal: roast chicken with stuffing and gravy, Russian Blue and Yukon potatoes and Blue Lake green beans all from our garden. All of it — even the chicken! The smell was simply divine.
That first moment of watching them dive into their plates of farm fresh food made the afternoon of cooking all worthwhile for me. A contented silence followed those first bites. And then my daughter looks up from her plate and says, “Which bird is this? It tastes so different. There is something “finer” about it. This is awesome, Mum!”
I was completely shocked, and then completely delighted! Not because she liked it, but because she was absolutely correct. This was the first of our French Marans birds to be prepared for the table.
The fact that she discerned the difference in flavor and texture was a victory for me as a food-driven parent. Far from the dinner table wars one reads about in parenting articles, I have endeavored to instill a sense of appreciation in my children when it comes to food. The house rule requires them to try at least one bite of something different before saying they don’t like it. But I digress. . . . these bites were simply amazing.
I took my own first bite of chicken, and savored the result of a two year journey to bring quality meat from my own garden to my table. This Marans was truly divine.
Brainwashing the masses
We’ve been brainwashed into believing that all chicken tastes the same.
We’ve also been brainwashed into believing that chicken tastes bland, and that ever other kind of bland meat in the world also “tastes like chicken”.
This is not an accident. As corporations took control of the poultry supply across the western world, the focus was to produce as much chicken as cheaply as possible. Thousands of small scale farms and poultry flocks were replaced by corporations controlling everything from the type of bird, to the feed, to the very number of days a bird would live.
Like a finely tuned instrument, advertising and marketing strategies came along with the shift to convince people that all chicken is just chicken. And that everywhere you go, the chicken tastes the same . . . . because now it is all the same!
Only 3 corporations control the supply of chicken today. The product pushed is the Cornish Cross, which itself is a marvel of selective breeding. Millions of birds are raised each year in warehouse barns, fed the same commercial pelleted or crumbled feed for 8 weeks, and then harvested. The birds are never farther than a few steps from food and water. The light regime, temperature and air flow are all regulated by computers. The birds never see the sun or a blade of grass, and their lives are over before they even begin.
Chicken (the meat) all tastes the same because chickens (the birds) have been crafted into a product that people have been lulled into accepting as good . . . or good enough anyway.
Breaking the trend
This is the system my heart could no longer tolerate. As I stood in the grocery aisle, looking at the neatly packaged boneless breasts on a Styrofoam tray, I would wonder to myself how one becomes a “boneless chicken” farmer. The lives of the chickens that created this meat were boneless too — devoid of experience. How can we treat a sentient being that way?
I hated that every time I bought this chicken I was supporting the very corporate system that I detested. While I fully support the organic ideal, the cost of that chicken puts it simply beyond my ability to pay. It makes me sad that great quality food, which also provides for quality lives for the animals, is a product that millions of people simply cannot afford. And yes, in case you wondered, I have even tried being a vegetarian as a result, but dismissed it as not being a healthy option for me personally. I don’t thrive on a vegetarian diet, I don’t feel better, and therefore including meat is better for me. It’s the choice I have made, but it left me wrestling with this chicken dilemma.
Getting my own chickens started out as a small experiment, just three hens, but it rapidly grew into the production of meat for my own table. I don’t want to sell chicken meat, but I do want to be sure that the chicken I am eating has been raised well. The experience means I will never look at chicken (the meat or the bird) the same way ever again.
Celebrate the variation
This February, 2019, marks the first full year of having eaten only my own home-grown chicken and eggs. It is a victory for me both as a new small scale farmer and as a food-driven person.
I can tell you with great certainty and from personal experience that there are significant differences in taste, color, and texture between Americanas, Barred Rocks, and French Marans, which are the three types of birds I now raise.
Americanas have the darkest meat, the coarsest texture, and the least amount of breast meat. This is likely why they are considered mostly an egg breed. That, and because they lay blue eggs which are simply delightful. Americana-Barred Rock crosses are actually a big improvement for meat over a pure Americana.
The Barred Rock is a fantastic traditional dual purpose bird. Once a staple bird on small farms across North America, these have been the most efficient birds on my farm, meaning they produce the most meat on the least amount of feed in the shortest time. The meat is whiter and better tasting than the Americana.
But as my daughter recently discovered, the Marans is exquisite! (And yes, on a technical note, the breed is always referred to as Marans with an ‘s’ on the end, and never as Maran). Trust the French to produce such a culinary delight! It is difficult for me to find the right words to describe the improvements found in the Marans. It has to do with a much finer texture, quality and taste than the other birds I have tried.
Let the culinary adventure begin
So the next time someone quips “Tastes Like Chicken” perhaps you will give that phrase some more thought.
It is only true because we have forgotten our heritage, and traded a uniform commercial product for the taste experience that comes from the refined breeds.
Just like fine wine, there are heritage chickens that make eating a meal truly worthy of the name feast. Make a point of trying some heritage chicken this year from a small scale farmer and see what you’ve been missing.
All photos in this post are from pixabay.com