The majority of us do not consider the chicken. We may consider whether the package of chicken we purchase is free range, organic, cage-free, grain fed, cruelty free. But we are unlikely to think about the implications for the physical being, the essence of chicken-ness, that the chicken’s conditions create for it.
And I am here to tell you that the cage-free, organic, free-range chickens and chicken parts that you purchase at Whole Foods or your other large vendors bear little to no relationship to the actual free-range, catch-as-catch can, ne’er-do-well chicken of the historic barn yard. For one thing, living history chicken is ripped.
It’s well-developed physically, with strong, sturdy bones and robust ligaments. Its musculature is tight: this is not a bird in need of a personal trainer. Its meat, when cooked, is not white. It is dark meat, not so dark meat, and sort-of white meat. Its taste was described to me as gamey, but I disagree. It was chicken, but earthy, sweet and fresh and rich.
But all that came after the meeting of human, knife, and chicken.
Disassembling the chicken fell to me; I declined rubbing butter into flour having prevented a fall down cellar stairs by putting my hand in fresh goose guano, so I after I washed my hands, I addressed the chicken in its bowl, and took up a knife.
By this time, post-carrots, -parsnips, -squash, -string, -tallow and -suet, the knife lacked the purest essence of knife, that is, sharpness. But it functioned well enough for the task, with some persuasion. The skin was much thicker and more resilient than a store-bought chicken, and greasier, though not in an unpleasant way at first. The muscles were well-developed, and pink. Rosy pink, deep pink, dark like wine. There were no large slabs of the shiny, flaccid, pale meat you find on the chickens in the store. Those aren’t chickens any more: those are products.
The process of quartering the chicken took strength and pressure on the knife, and the strength of my hands. I did have to rip joints apart, and break the carcass’s back. All of this had a sound, and a mild smell of chicken, mixed with the melting tallow. But it was the sound that, with the greasy, slick knife, and the grease that soon covered my hands and wrists, that kept bringing me back to what I was doing, and that, when the bird was broken apart and in the pot and my hands washed, again (they itched), send me outside and up the hill for air and sky.
We boiled the chicken in a kettle we’d already boiled crook neck squash in; later, we added sage, thyme, parsnips and carrots. It was delicious. The broth was incredible, and the whole meal very simple. That’s the whole of the recipe: boil a chicken, add herbs and root or fall vegetables, boil until done, serve. Use any uneaten broth and bones/meat for stew, pie or other dishes. That’s it.
The product chickens from the market are bred to fall apart. They haven’t got what a running, pecking, eating everything chicken’s got in muscle, ligament, and tendon.
On Sunday, after we came home, I looked at the food in our cupboards. There were boxes, cardboard, plastic, layers of packaging. The cheese was square. These things came from the good market, but were they food, or were they products? I felt like a passenger on the ship in Wall*E, and I was appalled.