Friday, 18 January 2008
(Mis)Adventures of an Ethical Shopper (part 1)
So , chicken is popping up everywhere all over the media after last week's chicken welfare crusade by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver.
I think the worst bit was seeing audience members unwittingly separating male from female chicks ; which once collected were instantly put to death by oxygen deprivation ,live on television . The males that is . At least there is a legitimate use for these tiny "by-products" of the egg business . They all go to feed zoo animals and exotic pets and none are wasted , but seeing film of these little creatures being divided on an industrial scale ; the tiny hapless males tumbling off conveyor belts in to crates , was stomach churning .To see any baby animal (for me) whether it be up close , through a t.v screen or in a photograph , is to bond sympathetically with it . I dare not even cast my mind back over the other method of dispatching them ; going live straight in to a grinder ....
I've bought Free Range eggs since I owned my own fridge ; getting on for 20 years . The horrors of battery egg production have been well documented through all this time , so half a hurrah for the phasing out of this unnecessarily cruel and restrictive system by 2012 , but why has it taken that long ?
The part of this campaign that really stirred my sleepwalking good intentions was the FACT that most of the chickens we EAT fare no better ; indeed in cheaper products they are discarded battery-egg layers.I decided it was high time to buy ethically sourced chicken , so took note of the brand names which represent poultry raised under the RSPCA's Freedom Food scheme . This is "Oakham" in Marks and Spencer , "Willow Farm" in Tesco etc . Whilst it may not be wholly free range it is a huge stride in the right direction . Chickens have more room , light , perches and distractions to allow them to express natural behaviour .
As a family we really enjoy a roast chicken on a Sunday , but from now on it will be ethically sourced or it won't get to my table ! I am a concerned consumer ; an ethical shopper , who tries to put their money where their mouth is , but after Saturday's usual food shop I was left utterly disillusioned . What's more annoying than having the rug pulled from under your feet when they're already standing on the moral high ground ? Yes , and where ARE your organic / RSPCA Freedom badged birds Mr. Tesco ???
I bought an "Oakham" chicken from M+S , but once home noted that whilst it's guaranteed to be "juicy" it isn't actually guaranteed to be humanely reared . No mention of enriched living conditions on this particular poultry "unit of production".
I'm left wondering (hoping) if I've done the right thing - from now on I'm not going to bolster an industry founded on indifferent , or at worst inhumane animal husbandry , that has lead to chicken becoming a preposterously cheap meat ; costing less pound for pound than dog food .... well , if I can avoid it ...
Back to Tesco...
Take a trip around the familiar aisles of your usual store once the blinkers of
supermarket anasthaesia are wearing off - you'll be depressed .
Most shoppers plough a weary furrow around the shop , picking out the same items week on week . We've all become divorced from the reality of just what we're eating by the sanitised little polystyrene trays . Small children probably expect a live chicken to have 10 legs (the better to be neatly packaged up together ... well , less the bit of leg showing tell-tale ammonia burns from its living conditions)
I usually buy breaded chicken strips because they're quick and convenient , and sit in the freezer for those occasions when I haven't got time to make a proper meal from scratch (something else I could get really evangelical about !)Right ... so no chicken strips this week because there's no such thing as organic or RSPCA approved ones ! I searched , increasingly frustrated , for an alternative , having rejected the unappetising veggie options . Finally I plunked a box of mini salmon en croutes in the trolley - MINI SALMON EN CROUTES !!! How bizarre ! It really doesn't help my intentions when I have an 11 year old who is stubborn to the point of being utterly intractable about his (limited) food choices . For that meal he had to make do with a Free Range egg !
It seems I'm going to have to expend a lot more shoe leather to search out acceptable chicken choices from this point .I mean , just because I care about the state of my food when its still running around , doesn't mean it has to be all sackcloth and ashes does it?
Before I realise , I've already compromised my enlightened ideals by putting the usual tin of mexican chicken soup in the trolley (hell-shed broiler) then there were those cajun chicken burgers the kids like sometimes on a Monday ("rubbish-tea night") um ,no won't buy those anymore . Eleven yr old pulls a face . Pressed chicken for sarnies ? Er , not this time . Chicken pies ? No. Kievs ? Uh-uh ! Chicken Tikka pieces for wraps ? NO ! Look , I don't want to start buying happy chickens only to spend miserable whole days myself , cutting , breading and freezing it , or virtuously simmering vats of soup and lami-foil bagging it !! The frustration of Hobson's choice set in (as in you can buy it or not . That's your choice !)
It is lovely , heart warming , that two of the children in the household are right behind me in my efforts . My (nearly) 18 yr old thinks it's all eye-wash , and in any case "chickens are ugly and deserve it !" Good grief , I've spawned a sociopath !
Mind you , I think older teens fall in to two categories ; those who carry the woes of the world firmly on their politically sensitive shoulders , and endlessly remind you of the fact , and the tribe my son comes from ; who wish the world and its woes - including any kind of reality - would just bog off and be tragic elsewhere !
I suspect I shall be thwarted in my ethical endeavours in many ways - eventually there's bound to be a Part 2 to this .I may have to settle for some sort of compromise ( 2 ethical poultry products for one that isn't ??)I'm certainly not seeking to be preachy - this is my own "courage of convictions" moment only .I may be in a minority ... but I'm determined not to just chicken out .......