Free ranging thoughts about a most expensive chicken


I wonder what my dear late grandmother would say were she to learn that her grandson had paid $22 for a farmers market chicken, even upon admission that I experienced almost immediate twinges of buyer’s remorse.
When my mom was a young girl growing up in north Seattle, grandma raised quite a flock of chickens in the family’s large back yard. In those days, the city was not the hipsters’ paradise, tech-company magnet it is today (though I daresay some of the hipsters are into home-raised poultry).
World War II was a fresh memory. The culture of loggers, fishermen and other rough and ready folks who had recently tamed enough wilderness to carve out a city was still dominant. Those folks, along with people who had migrated from places like the mining and farming towns of the Inland Northwest – both my sets of grandparents among them – were coming to Seattle as its economic base broadened to include manufacturing, with Boeing leading the way.
The Depression was among fresh memories, as were lives in those small towns and cities around the Northwest – lives that included no small degree of self-sufficiency, and sometimes downright scarcity. Most families probably had people in the household who knew how to raise, butcher and cook animals that had spent their lives not far from the house, and others for whom adding on a room or repairing a machine was second nature.
As mom grew up near tiny Haller Lake, Seattle grew from 368,000 in 1940 to 557,000 in 1960. She and my dad both graduated from essentially new high schools built to accommodate the burgeoning population. And through much of it, Edna raised her chickens, with help from Janyce (my mom).
But back to the farmers market chicken. The bird had been born, bred, raised and slaughtered in the hamlet of Nickelsville, Va., the farmers told me. It had grown to a strapping 3.6 pounds on a free-range diet of hormone-free food with no genetically modified organisms. It had been cooped up only when it wanted to be cooped up. The chicken had, in short, lived a life that may have had more quality than man’s circa the mid-1600s as described by Thomas Hobbes (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”).
Being the sort whose heart is prone to idealizing the concept of a growing local agriculture movement, and who is susceptible to the soft sales pitch of back-to-the-landers, I bought the chicken. Being the sort whose mind is of a highly pragmatic nature, and in spite of my evidence-based opinion that chickens of the Nickelsville bird’s variety are healthier for me and the planet, it wasn’t long at all before I wondered whether all those positives were actually worth $22. Grandma Duke probably could have scored a side of beef – local, I might add – for that kind of money back in the day.
The lovely and talented Angela was downright speechless upon hearing of my extravagant purchase. I brought her around somewhat, though, by preparing a tasty, lime-infused roast with potatoes and onions that tasted delectable in the critter’s juices. We scraped the cooked carcass for every precious scrap we could get a couple of days later, and the tacos were first-rate, too. Grandma, at least you would have enjoyed the meals.


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