The above phrase has become something of a go-to, for use whenever you try and new food and aren't certain how to describe it.
How did chicken become a scapegoat for our tastebuds? How did it become so universal that it can be used to describe everything from alligator meat to armadillo? (Even Anthony Bourdain, world famous chef, used the phrase "tastes like chicken" to describe the meat of the latter when in Uraguay).
The science of it has to do with muscle makeup. For any land animal that does not have hooves, the muscle is made primarily of something called "fast twitch fibers", nicknamed "the vanilla ice cream of the flesh-product world". These fibers actually don't have much flavor to start with, and rely on environmental factors to create their taste, much in the way that vanilla ice cream is a base for several different flavors of ice cream. Everything "tastes like chicken" because it is the meat we eat most often, and therefore the go-to for our brains when searching for a descriptor. This being said, it means that the environment your chicken is raised in directly affects not only the quality of your food, but your perception of food in general.
Let's talk about environments.
Conventional chicken is what makes up most of what you see in the grocery store these days. It's in your soups, it's in your chicken salad, it's the boneless, skinless stuff you buy to make your casseroles, and it's even what you'll find under that "natural" label in the section geared towards the environmentally friendly people. (We have to state that there are exceptions to all of the above, but by and large, this is the norm). If we're continuing on the train of thought where we're talking about how environments have a direct role in the taste and quality of our meat, it stands to reason that we should examine the environment of the standard conventional chicken.
A conventional chicken begins its life in a large warehouse. On day one, they are debeaked. The owners of the conventional houses do this because the birds are placed in groups of 40,000 (or more)- a very stressful environment. Stress in young chicks leads to cannibalism, so they remove the beaks to reduce the possibility of that happening. Any parents reading this know the succeptability of our kids to the runny noses of the kids around them, especially when they're young. It works much the same way in this setting- one chick gets sick (stress also suppresses the immune system) and there can easily be a few thousand deaths within a few days as the sickness spreads. To try and prevent this, the chicks are started on a diet of synthetic vitamins and antibiotics mixed in with their GMO feed. These preventative measures don't always work. They stay in this environment for their entire lives- crammed into the same large room with thousands and thousands of other birds. Their droppings (poop) turn to dust, which is inhaled by the birds, causing respiratory distress. The birds are also given a large dose of growth accelerators, which causes them to gain so much weight that sometimes their legs break as they're simply walking around. They just drop to the floor and are left there. The other birds walk all over them and peck them until processing day, which we don't even get into with this blog entry.
So. Let's compare that with the environment of a chicken raised from birth to slaughter on pasture, the way that we raise ours here at Peterson Family Farm.
Our birds start off their lives in small groups (less than 200). The smaller numbers mean less stress for the birds and less competition for food and water. Any sickness is easily identified, treated, and contained. We start (and finish!) them on a non-GMO feed from Sunrise Farms in Stuarts Draft, Va. Our birds are NEVER fed any "plumping agents" or synthetic vitamins. At 3 weeks of age, we place them in portable field structures, where they are moved daily to fresh grass. We keep them in these structures because apparently all members of the animal kingdom find chicken tasty. Go figure. These shelters also serve as our way of concentrating their droppings (poop) in one area of the pasture, making it easier to move them to a completely clear section the next day. As they age (and produce more poop), we move them twice a day. But the bottom line is that they get to enjoy bugs, fresh grass, clean air, and sunshine- in abundance.
Which environment would you choose? Which environment would you choose to train your taste buds?
Try our chicken, folks. There's a real difference.
Want to learn more? Start by watching Food, Inc.- a documentary found on Netflix. Google "conventional chicken farm" and click through the links. There is no shortage of information out there to help edcuate eaters about what it is they're eating. And please, let us know if you'd like to come see what we're doing firsthand. We'd love to host you!