I had a bit of a PR fail the other day. Every few weeks I sell baked goods at a local breakfast club, and a (very kind) lady came up to say my macaroons were the best she’d ever had and ask how I made them. I told her about whipping the egg whites and sugar until they were mashmallowy and then said “It probably helps that I only use eggs from our own chickens.” (she nodded approvingly) “They free range all day every day and eat lots of bugs, which makes their eggs really high quality!”. She looked absolutely disgusted and beat a hasty retreat.
I am, of course, a believer in trying to meet people where they are, but in the current dominant food culture it feels like fighting against the tide just to talk about food in an authentic way. When all of the cartons of “cage free” eggs in the supermarket boast that their omnivorous chickens are fed 100% vegetarian feed, I barely know what to do other than bang my head against a wall. Chickens are awesome, delicious and beautiful, but also (by human standards) brutal animals. If I put my three-week old chicks where my laying flock could get at them, they would peck them to death and probably eat them. They have evolved from wild jungle fowl, who are hunters and scavengers.
The fact that our beautiful laying flock free range and eat a ton of bugs and greens (I also see them down at the creek a lot, are they eating crayfish?) is what makes their egg whites so full of high quality protein, and their yolks a vivid deep orange, and their eggs taste amazing. Yes, chickens grow delicious meat and consistently lay miraculous eggs, but that is not all they do. To be disgusted that chickens eat bugs is to ignore the multifaceted creature a chicken is.
How does a farmer find a way of walking the line? Of helping consumers understand why their product is in every way superior to what one can buy in a grocery store, while at the same time not repelling someone for whom chickens are cute hypothetical creatures whose silhouettes grace weathervanes? I think one issue is that being closer to livestock (through buying direct from farmers who husband the animals from birth to death, perhaps even seeing the animals running around) reminds us of the death that must occur for us to eat meat. Much easier when that death is a few more degrees separated from us, and comes shrinkwrapped on a little styrofoam tray.
My dream (which is a lot to ask) is to bring an understanding and peace to the many many people who would rather eat an animal that’s been raised in a feed lot than an animal they knew and saw being reared. In my imaginary future these aren’t big issues to grapple with, just a simple and sweet understanding of the food we eat- what goes into producing it, the true costs and benefits, and the ownership that comes with knowledge.