5 Things To Know About Buying & Eating Chicken
While some people have cut out meat altogether, many people have only cut out red meat in favor of poultry and fish. And although you might think eating chicken is a healthier or earth-friendlier option compared to beef, it's a much more complicated story. As many people make the switch over to chicken, the demand increases, and the poultry industry has answered the call in a way that might not be so healthy for man or bird.
If you’re a poultry-eater, here's what you need to know about buying and eating chicken. Let’s break it down:
1. Factory-farming can have unethical practices.
Conventional factory-farming practices can have a multitude of ethical issues: We're talking over-stuffed coops, floors covered with excrement, and thousands of live animals packed so tightly they’re barely able move, much less engage in comfort behaviors like pecking, wing-stretching or simply walking.
The result can yield stressed-out chickens with reduced immunity to the illnesses that rip through over-crowded facilities. The sick birds (and often the well ones) might also receive multiple courses of antibiotics, traces of which can eventually wind up in our bodies.
2. Factory-farmed chicken can be unhealthy for people and the environment.
The U.S. raises billions of chickens a year, which can generate billions of pounds of excrement annually. While some is used as fertilizer, there’s literally tons more waste, which, no matter how well-managed, can tend to spill over and can contaminate our air, land, and water.
3. Connect with your chicken—and look for pasture-raised.
While raising your own chickens is fantastic for those who can, not everyone can raise their own poultry. The next best thing is to get to know a local chicken producer from whom you can source fresh, pasture-raised birds. You can find these producers through your local farmers market, health food store, food cooperative or CSA—or visit LocalHarvest.com for lists of small-scale, local and organic farms.
An added bonus with these types of extra healthy birds: Feel free to eat the skin! While you might think opting for boneless, skinless chicken breast is best, if it's from healthy, pasture-raised chickens, the skin can be rather nutritious.
4. Know your chicken lingo!
If you must go the supermarket route, you might wand to learn the sometimes confusing terminology so you can buy the best chicken you can afford:
- Certified organic is the best you can buy from the supermarket. While it can be pricey, it means that there's no antibiotics, chemical additives, or pesticides. It also means that the bird was fed without animal by-products, and the animal was given some daily exercise.
- Certified humane and handled means your chicken’s been raised according to standards that require ample space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress, and it prohibits the use of antibiotics and additives.
- Free-range means the chickens get to go to an outside, fenced-in pen every day, though there’s no requirement for how much time they spend outdoors.
- Raised without antibiotics means just that, but it doesn’t mean drug-free—these chickens are allowed to be dosed with other meds.
- Raised without hormones is a label you may often see, but it can be fairly meaningless, as the USDA doesn’t allow hormone use in chicken in the first place. (Hormones are more commonly used in beef.)
- Natural or farm-raised can also be marketing ploys, as they tell consumers little about the way the chicken was raised, what it was fed, or if it was treated with meds and antibiotics.
5. You don't have to cut chicken out cold-turkey (pun intended).
With the rise of factory farming, chicken has become widely available, albeit cheap, plentiful, low-quality birds. But look back just a generation or two and you’ll see that for some of our parents and many of our grandparents, poultry was a special treat, not an everyday event. Perhaps it’s time we start cutting back on chicken consumption to help the environment, the animals, the workers, and ourselves.
Here are a few suggestions on how to get the ball rolling:
- Consider taking part in the Meatless Mondays movement, and add your own Chicken-free Thursdays to help broaden your culinary horizons and be kinder to the earth.
- Think of chicken as the side show, not the main event. When you do eat chicken, you may want to eat smaller amounts.
- Remember, if you are scaling back on animal products, do so without trying to fill up on processed non-meat alternatives, which can be full of additives and preservatives.
The bottom line.
I encourage you to buy the best, healthiest, freshest, pasture-raised, organic poultry (and meats, too!) possible. Eating poultry can definitely be included in a healthy lifestyle, just be sure you're purchasing and eating your chicken mindfully. At the very least, try to make sure the chicken you're eating is pasture raised and organic—and savor every bite.