How many of you are my age? (I.e. OLD. . .) Because people my age will have a special place in hades for some of the topics mentioned in this linked post. Trigger warning. Okay so where do I start? I almost have no words for the amount of stuff that shits me to tears in this story.
It basically says that chicken went from a rare treat to a staple food to a commodity food, to the detriment of the planet it seems. (“790 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year“) Well colour me ( N O T ! ) surprised. . .
Chicken was an “every second Sunday” meal for people in my childhood. It was a treat. Oh and news flash my parents also cooked with and made us eat offal for a few meals a fortnight because lamb’s fry or steak and kidney was much more affordable than chicken or straight up beef steak, and pork or mutton ruled the dinner table for a few other meals per fortnight in that time.
And we got served leftovers! The ignominy of it all! But also, we managed to live much more sustainably than I can now. You can’t get a range of offal at the supermarkets because they can’t in all seriousness jack the prices of it up enough to satisfy their shareholders, and so it’s just gradually been “educated” out of us to know about offal let alone use it.
By eating all of the animal we needed fewer animals to be slaughtered to meet our food requirements. Yes there were also fewer people on Earth back then but until people began to get fussy (and the then-new supermarkets started to realise there was no margin in offal and made Herculean efforts that changed our food habits) you got to eat all the bits and so you also got thousands of amino acids and vitamins and trace elements and all those good things that supermarkets now sell you in the “health” & “medicine” aisles to make up for the deficiencies modern food gives us.
I’m not saying it was shareholders, but it was shareholders . . .
Huh. Imagine a bunch of shareholders that don’t care about anything but more and more share value pushing the supermarkets to screw their producers and customers over and to hell with anyone else’s health and wellbeing? Yeah like we didn’t see that coming, much.
So anyway the shareholders needed their supermarket to make their growers feed chickens up to be fat and ‘white’ and full of juices because A) that was actually cheap to achieve and B) people got used to white chicken meat, it took decades of innovating but they made chicken an inexpensive source of protein and then educated the public to want it.
“And goddamm it we’re marketing it as white meat damnit so it’d better BE white meat” - and that worked fine - until now, when the ecological cost of feeding the chickens soya based feed and 57 varieties of hormones and medicines and antibiotics has become a bit of a hot potato and too obvious to just ignore.
It turns out that the now-sustainable way to feed chooks is - the old way, of insects and field greens (in the form of algae and soldier fly larva nowadays - if we wanted to) that’ll take chicken meat back to the colour it had back before we invented the Superbird. The unsustainable ways have brought us to the point where CO2 levels are the highest they’ve ever been since human life on Earth began.
And yeah. The final irony is that those earlier chickens with their not very white meat were actually easier on the environment and were actually far more nutritious as well. And back then were a special treat because the poor birds weren’t being churned out like feathery sacks of commodity meat.
<Grumpy Old Guy voice: ”OFF”>
What I’m saying is that most chicken was naturally pastured, or at most got a handful of pelleted food when they were cooped overnight. There wasn’t a flood of growth hormones and antibiotics and a mashed-up bland white bean, they weren’t crammed so tight that they just had to sit in the growing pile of their own excrement and never got to exercise and build up firm muscles. (Remember kids - muscles ARE meat. Well-exercised muscles have absorbed nutrients and are tastier and better. Unless you’re trying to sell chickens on the basis of their lovely white flabby unused muscles. . . )
Those chickens were the farmer’s answer to pest control too because they ate insects galore, they ate mice if they could catch them, and they cleaned up most organic material and weeds and gave it back as chicken shit which was a far from derogatory term back then - it was a valuable fertiliser that fed the soil, that in turn fed the crops.
And speaking of crops - to the chickens, there was no difference between weeds and crops so farmers had to manage their poultry a bit carefully. That was a bit of a downer, actually having to spend time managing their poultry.
Before you say “but Old Guy, that’d be too hard to do in today’s high pressure farming world” let me tell you about regenerative agriculture. And let me tell you that instead of spending their own time doing RegenAg or managing chickens, what’s happened is that farmers have shoved a heap of that work off onto fertiliser factories and the workers there, onto transport workers, oil refinery workers, fuel distributors, and never mind the damage to the ecosystem.
Oh and actually in the end they aren’t to blame, WE are. We clamored for chicken every Sunday, chicken any day - every day - oh and make it cheaper! And so, we bear the brunt of the responsibility for that. Just for wanting to have nice things.
Now - don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’re bad for wanting cheap chicken any day we fancy, which meant that farmers had to change to far more efficient and economical ways to produce chicken at mega scale which meant that the ecological footprint of chicken has gotten so bad that now it’s acknowledged that something has to be done about it.
Actually, Big Food corporations made us want the foods that we’d sort of wanted and that they then made as cheaply as possible, so it’s also their fault. And they aren’t as much to blame as the shareholders. Who were often just us.
But Imma point to this results, which is a damning indictment of us as greedy destroyers no matter where on the Blame Chain we are:
“. . . the opposite was true in consumers who expressed less interest in sustainability: . . . tended to react negatively . . . ultimately opting not to purchase the alternatively-fed chicken . . . “ (emphasis mine)
See, that isn’t so easily forgiveable. A mass of people who still don’t give a toss for the world and others on it and deliberately deny the sustainable methods.
How did we get here?
See the problem from the above? People aren’t willing to change for the good of the planet. They still want their supernaturally white chicken breasts, and that’s that. And as to how that happened, it’s down to our nature as a species. To survive we needed to have energy, and a surplus of it to boot, because if we didn’t, someone with more energy would get out there and at best, impregnate as many as possible thus ensuring their DNA would propagate forward.
At worst, they’d also kill you and your family to ensure their DNA would survive over yours. And so that meant that if you weren’t well supplied with energy and had plenty of food in your lands (that you’d also have to fight to maintain control over) then you became a stray set of mostly unexpressed genetic blobs in the human DNA.
Then once we started an agrarian society, the die was cast. We found that some people were better at farming, some better at hunting, some at carpentry, some at milling grain and baking bread, some at cooking, and so forth. But we still needed to be among the DNA sequences that survived.
Most animals have some ‘fakeout’ behaviours to trick rivals. We were a sophisticated species and our fakeouts spectacular. We began to use monetary tokens and - well - now that dice could also be used to win money off another person. . .
People tended to notice things. Things like: that people with a lot of money, had better lives, less hunger, lived longer. And they ate magical stuff like white bread that was like our bread but you didn’t have to eat around the dead mouse parts or spit out clumps of wheat husk and bran. So we started to want white bread, and bakers developed their own fakeouts to make the most of their precious wheat, so much so that laws had to be passed to limit their cheating.
Other ways had to be found to make as much money from a sack of grain, and ways were found. I’ll present this episode of a rather good show for you to enjoy, but I recommend you to watch the whole series, it’s an eye-opener.
We’re now in the situation where bread flour has been adulterated and stretched so much that flour has to - by law - have vitamins and other nutrients added back in, because otherwise it’s just a white powder with no nutritional value. All because we perceived that white bread must be a superfood and wanted it.
It’s similar with chicken now. Everyone can afford chicken anytime they want. It’s just . . . not good chicken . . . But it’s what we practically begged for, by wanting it cheaper and cheaper while also expecting shares in BigEvilFoodCorp to increase in value.
One thing I just thought of, to show just how much we’re indoctrinated by this barrage of media and advertising trying to justify the damage being done: Even the article’s HTML title () “Marketing sustainable chicken raised on insects and algae” when it should by rights have read “Marketing slightly more sustainable chicken raised on insects and algae”
What can be done?
This is simple. The price and cost to the Earth of the current feeding regime can’t really be borne. There’s no wiggle room in that, it simply can’t. We have to stop eating chicken that’s fed and bred so unsustainably.
So one answer is to eat less chicken, but this comes with the drawback that we’d need to find another meat to replace it. And almost every other meat has similarly high ecological costs, and most of those other sources don’t have any way to ameliorate their impact that’s any simpler and cheaper to implement than the changes to feeding chickens a more sustainable diet.
We know (or should know by now) that you get nothing for nothing, everything has costs, and we know that producers and manufacturers will always take the cheapest way out; It took lots of work and campaigning but the chicken industry got there, and you can see - we now can all have chicken every Sunday and any other day now.
So two things can be done right away that don’t cost a lot. Gradually change the education message and gradually change the feed to newer alternatives.
Let’s face it - ‘education’ (aka propaganda but let’s split hairs) has always been the best way to get people to create and change their opinions and habits, it wouldn’t take a lot to push the conversation back to natural healthy chicken. With a bit of colour to it.
And secondly, just as the introduction of antibiotics and preventative medicating and growth hormones was done gradually (and mostly without our knowledge) - how about introducing insects and algae and lower grade vegetable mass back into chicken feed gradually? It’s better than the chicken sheds and factories being blown away in ever-increasingly strong storms, washed away in once in a million flooding events, roasted in wildfires, and whatever else we’ve apparently unleashed.
I can change my eating habits to be more sustainable, and I have. I suggest people eat a bit less meat and a few more vegetables per meal, per week, and to consider replacing some of our protein with things like insect protein.
It just takes for us to change our minds about our food, and if that’s too hard, for someone else to change our minds about our food. And we know Big Food corporations can do that. And if they can’t or won’t, then the planet will do it for us.
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