“I lo-o-ove this chicken on a bone,” he’d say.
I should mention he was around four, I think, and fond of asking where his food came from – did corn grow on trees? What about potatoes?
Clearly we are an urban household. One that doesn’t engage in many horticultural activities.
Eventually Colin got around to asking “how’d they get this chicken on the bone anyway?”
We explained, in a fairly straightforward manner, how the chicken meat came to be attached to the chicken bone.
It wasn’t a terribly shocking revelation. The boys spent a great deal of time at Mike’s parents’ place out in the boonies, where there had at various times been plenty of chickens, as well as sheep, pigs, horses and whatever castoff household pets had been dropped on their country road by asshats who no longer want to deal with the cost of Kibbles.
I knew Colin wasn’t apt to get sentimental about eating what had once been scratching at bugs in the dirt, but I also hoped our conversation didn’t inadvertently kick off a new thing to be picky about. I tried to couch the whole subject into a circle-of-life conversation.
Because, you know, four year-olds and their existential tendencies.
I wrapped the whole explanation up with “even grandma’s chickens end up as dinner sometimes.”
Colin looked at me over the top of the drumstick.
“Grandma Sylvia,” he said.
Well, yeah, Grandma Sylvia. Of all the grandmas Colin had, she was the one with the livestock.
I laughingly relayed this story to my mother-in-law later. She surprised me by agreeing with Colin that it was absurd to think they’d eat their own chickens. They’d named the things, and hand fed them Cheerios, after all.
It was apparently only the occasional ill-tempered rooster that made it to the Sunday dinner table. My mistake.
Recent events had me thinking about this family love affair we have with poultry.
We’ve cut a lot of corners since Mike left his job in May and started working with me. We don’t eat out often, cancelled cable and the cleaning service. Most of the changes aren’t all that painful, save the distinct lack of televised football this fall.
The food thing is hard for me to compromise on, though.
When we were first married and living on a tight budget, I could get a week’s worth of groceries for two for less than $30. We were just out of college and not terribly picky. Our cupboards were full of boxes and cans. Everything was salted, preserved, processed and flavored, as well as cheap.
Since then we’ve had kids, in whom we hope to instill healthier habits. We’ve had people close to us deal with cancer and diabetes. We struggle to maintain our own health and weight while coasting down the backside of our forties. We’re managing multiple food allergies. We enjoy microbrews and good cheeses. We try to keep our carbon footprint small by buying local. I’d like to think we’ve avoided inducing early puberty in our kids with the hormone and antibiotic-free dairy and meat we buy. We get our vegetables from a community group that provides employment for refugees.
So, you know, seriously crunchy stuff.
And, goodbye $30 weekly food bill. None of our current ethic jives with a small budget, even with the very wide berth we’ve given Whole Foods.
But I have this image of Scarlett O’Hara doing the “As God as my witness” thing, only it’s a grossly misshapen, organic carrot she’s shaking at the sky. And given that the lion’s share of carrots back then were probably organic anyway, she’s shaking it out the window of an eight-year old, dinged up Prius, wearing a gown fashioned from repurposed canvas shopping totes.
I’ll go to great lengths to maintain a menu that meets my elaborate standards, even with a tight budget. It’s become my thing.
Which is how we came to be at the farmer’s market Saturday, looking for chicken. I can turn one chicken into three meals – roast chicken the first day, shredded chicken in a Chinese, cabbage coleslaw thing the next, and broth for the quasi-minestrone recipe I’ve developed that accommodates our allergy issues.
It’s budget consciousness in a sense … in an aggressive give-no-quarter way that Scarlett O’Hara would have appreciated, and given the fact a free-range bird will set us back a couple extra bucks.
The one place that sold chicken on this particular morning only had chicken parts, though. Leg, wings, breasts, thighs. No whole chickens.
“Maybe you could just buy some of everything and put together your own chicken?” Mike said.
Frankenchicken wasn’t exactly what I was going for.
Which is how I found myself at Winco later, picking out my big, fat, full-breasted whole chicken and ruminating on the subjugation of my normal standards as well as the cost of chicken happiness. Do chickens really care if they ever see the light of day or just live their short lives dragging themselves and their ginormous chests around in filth in the dark, smothered by other chickens?
So, just so you know, in these parts, a whole, free-range, antibiotic and hormone free chicken from the farmer’s market will set you back somewhere north of twenty bucks. A whole chicken from Winco? Six dollars.
Plus a load of guilt.
On the bright side, I do have three meals sewn up for this week. My inner Scarlett’ll just have to take a pill. We’ll be back on the crunchy wagon next week.
Only it’s a Prius, not a wagon.
You don’t have to feel guilty for voting for this blog. Do it for the chickens. They thank you, and so do I.