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It's Not Really About Chickens At All. - Eroticdreambattle — LiveJournal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Tony Grist

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It's Not Really About Chickens At All. [Jan. 12th, 2008|11:05 am]
Tony Grist
More about chickens. And first off I feel I owe Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall an apology. The man is trying to do a good thing. I was unduly contemptuous and harsh.

I liked Jamie Oliver's show last night. He went over much of the same ground- but in the form of an illustrated lecture. He killed chickens on stage, he gassed chicks, he made fritters out of the horrible slurry known as MRM (mechanically recovered meat). He also went where H F-W hadn't been and looked at egg production. He didn't bully us, he showed us the process. And he gave some credit and sympathy to the farmers. They don't necessarily want to farm on this inhuman scale but they're not given much choice; the market demands it of them. A standard chicken sells for £2.50 - £3.00. And how much of that goes to the producer? 3p.

Unlike H F-P, Oliver was groping for a compromise solution. The RSPCA has drawn up guidelines and will award a badge to producers who honour them. The birds are still kept indoors but in less crowded conditions, with windows and fans and amenities like straw bales and perches and toys. It's not the rural idyll we'd all like to see but it's a big improvement - and it only adds £1.00 to the price of each bird. That's acceptable, isn't it?

Or is it? I don't really know. There are almost certainly people out there who can afford a chicken at £2.50 but not at £3.50.  And do we really think it's ethical to press for animal welfare at the expense of human beings? Chickens are cheap because people are poor. That's what it's really all about.  Ten years ago we elected a Labour government in the belief that they cared about this sort of thing- and what have they done? They've allowed the gap between rich and poor to widen. Fussing about animal cruelty is approaching the problem from the wrong end. Stamp out human poverty and the excuse for factory farming disappears.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2008-01-12 12:57 pm (UTC)
Or is it? I don't really know. There are almost certainly people out there who can afford a chicken at £2.50 but not at £3.50. And do we really think it's ethical to press for animal welfare at the expense of human beings?

Are humans really in need of extra calories here in the West? You posted the other day about how the average person throws away one third of what they buy-- I suggest that this is partially enabled by how artificially cheap food is. I really believe that inexpensive food has not been a major success for the people involved... I am also not sure that more money is going to get rid of the demand for cheap food.

I'm not sure that factory farming should be looked at as simply an animal cruelty problem, by the way. It also has potentially direct impact on our health.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-12 02:49 pm (UTC)
But a cheap chicken is perhaps the closest to "decent" meat some people can afford. If that's taken away from them they'll have nothing left but junk.

I read or heard somewhere that the British public was never healthier than during WWII when food was rationed.
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[User Picture]From: white_hart
2008-01-12 01:08 pm (UTC)
Stamp out human poverty and the excuse for factory farming disappears

But organic and free-range farming doesn't have the same yield as factory farming; an end to battery farming would reduce the supply of chicken to the market, and it would become (as it used to be) a premium meat, not a cheap and cheerful protein sauce to thrown into a ready-made sauce.

Affordability is certainly an issue, but so is the expectation that chicken should be affordable.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2008-01-12 02:34 pm (UTC)
Nice use of the Wilton Diptych!
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2008-01-12 02:34 pm (UTC)
My grandparents kept a couple hundred chickens on their farm -- sold the eggs and sent them to the chop when they stopped laying. They had an area in the barn with free access to the outside. Some of them went outside (especially a ferocious rooster who patrolled the yard between barn and house and attacked me one, scaring the bejeebers out of me), but most of them preferred their indoor accommodations.

I buy factory chickens on sale for $.80 - $1.00 a pound for a roaster -- the same chickens, raised humanely, never go on sale and sell for something like $2.50 a pound. We're personally struggling with a desire to buy the humane chickens in the face of pervasive price increases. (Thank you, Washington, for mandating the diversion of a big chunk of the corn crop to ethanol production.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-12 02:59 pm (UTC)
Ailz used to keep chickens and would happily do so again. We were discussing this last night. We have a tiny yard, but it might be big enough to house a couple of birds. They'd roost in the shed and get to peck about in the shrubbery. We might yet consider it.
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[User Picture]From: margaretarts
2008-01-12 03:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this information. I haven't completely given up meat, but now when I'm given a choice I try to go with the green stuff. My vegetarian ways started when I watched some chickens strutting in a yard and saw that they had unique and lovable personalities, or should I say chickenalities. To imagine them packed together like sardines was too much.

One way to stamp out human poverty on a local level, and to scale down on the meat, is to shop spring to fall for produce at farmers' markets. Buy some things at full price, then ask if there is some food going to waste (still good but just not saleable for some reason, like sprouting potatoes). This free food, perfect for soups and casseroles, can be given to neighbors in need at local soup kitchens. Those I've visited usually get donations of fatty processed foods, so they're happy to get fresh stuff.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-12 03:30 pm (UTC)
I used to be a vegetarian. I switched back to meat for reasons of health. It's important to me that we treat animals with respect.

But even more important that we treat humans with respect (even though a lot of them hardly deserve it).

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-12 04:44 pm (UTC)
I should imagine that's true.

And then there's the taste....
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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2008-01-12 04:23 pm (UTC)
I get confused over things like MRM. H F-W is always going on about respecting the animal, and that means using every available part of it. Surely, therefore, that includes MRM? Yet I have the impression he'd disavow it. I wondered about watching the programmes, but decided that day-after-day was too intensive viewing. I had some misgivings about his grasp of everyday people's finances after his previous mini-series. I think your observation about approaching the problem from the wrong end is apt.

On the other hand - or is it making the same point from yet another direction, I'm not sure - a few years ago I remember listening to either Farming Today or The Food Programme and hearing someone from The Soil Association asserting that organic food was a "premium" product and therefore justified a "premium" price. I think it was when Iceland made their abortive attempt to sell organic at the same price as non-organic produce. I don't doubt that organic does justify some extra cost because of reduced yields, but I rather suspect there is sometimes a rip-off element there as well. As someone commented in your previous post, organic doesn't require purchasing of all those expensive, patented fertilisers and pesticides, does it?
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[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2008-01-12 04:43 pm (UTC)
Many of the pesticides used in non-factory farming allow for a much higher yield. Their use is (I assume) cost effective, or it wouldn't be used.
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From: msjann65
2008-01-12 04:29 pm (UTC)

There it is!

Now we have it! It really is not about the chickens at all.
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[User Picture]From: frankepi
2008-01-12 11:38 pm (UTC)
I think the price of meat, the means of raising meat, and the economic conditions of the working poor are interrelated in more complex ways than just "chickens are cheap because people are poor."

The farmers, for example, make a lot less money with chicken being cheap.

Like big-box retail stores, lower profit margins and lower wages for workers result in a self-perpetuating underclass that is not only employed by these companies but becomes the primary consumer of these companies.

Those who CAN afford ethically raised food, ethically made clothes, etc. should do so in part to put pressure on the factory farms, etc. to compete not just in cost, but in production method and image.

Also: I think probably meat SHOULD be expensive. In the U.S. we used to eat meat once or maybe twice a week, but my generation was raised eating meat every night, which is less healthy and supports a despicable industry.

I've been reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which covers much of this ground. It's U.S.-focused, but I highly recommend it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-13 05:01 pm (UTC)
The more I've thought about it the more I see that you can't consider the issues surrounding food in isolation. If our consumption is wrong it's because our society is wrong.

I grew up in the 50s- in a reasonably affluent English household- with wartime rationing a recent memory. We ate meat most days but in very small quantities (by today's standards) and most of it was cheap cuts and offal. Our diet was limited (and boring) but very well-balanced- with lots of green vegetables and fruit.

Thanks for the recommendation. I need to study this problem more.

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[User Picture]From: humblenarrator
2008-01-15 03:45 am (UTC)
This was a great discussion. This article, about that new $2500 car, is related. Factory farming is just one piece of a much larger puzzle, I know you know...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-15 10:13 am (UTC)
Good article. The Chinese and the Indians are having their industrial revolution just as we're beginning to count the cost of ours. I don't see them reining back for the sake of the polar bears. We're in a fix and it's going to take some clever lateral thinking to get us out of it.
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