What I'm saying on the soapbox:
- Now for the article that ruffled my feathers (ha) … Lethlean took a couple of well-known chefs to task for their chicken choices. “Fried chicken joints (such as Belle’s in Melbourne and Sydney) proliferate. Chefs who once tweezered at places like Momofuku Seiobo, such as Ben Greeno, now at the Paddington in Sydney, sell hundreds of rotisserie chickens a day.”
I want to take a moment to unpack this.
Both these chefs do not hide where their chicken comes from.
While I agree there is not much of merit in the La Ionica brand (their claim to fame is they don’t wash their chicken in chlorine), it is important to note Morgie (Belles Hot Chicken) certainly has never hidden their provenance from his customers (it’s written on the bottom of every menu).
Ben Greeno, also mentioned in the article, insisted on securing a free range bird at The Paddington. This is no mean feat when you are talking the volumes and price point he was expected to hit (as Letho points out). Greeno found that in Bannockburn. Bannockburn are accredited free-range by Free Range Egg and Poultry Association (FREPA).
The FREPA standards allow for a massive variance in the stocking density of birds. This is often not in keeping with the public perspective of the free-range bird. I agree with Lethlean that this should be addressed. What I don’t agree with, is that this should be addressed by calling out a chef who is using an accredited product. Instead, shouldn't we focus on the board that is creating and enforcing the standards? Please call them out.
What of the chefs who do not put the provenance on the menu and trade on their reputation as champions of sustainability (with coolrooms that tell a different story)? We could call them out.
Or the companies out there who do not conform to the standards they put on their labels. Let's call more of them out.
There are also chefs all over Sydney proudly displaying a brand that is not free-range but simply has nice branding. They could be called out too.
But, I just don't agree with calling out the guys who have made it their modus operandi to be transparent about the choices they make. That’s not fair, as they have not actually deceived anyone.
- Letho does reference a cracking article (ha) in the Smithsonian (from 2012) about how the chicken conquered the world. “Modern chickens are cogs in a system designed to convert grain into protein with staggering efficiency ... selective breeding has made the broilers so docile that even if chickens are given access to outdoor space — a marketing device that qualifies the resulting meat to be sold as ‘free-range’ — they prefer hanging out at the mechanised trough.” This is so important. If culinary history is your thing, this article is for you.
- If you want to know the worst of the chicken world, read Michael Rulhman on “mechanically separated meat” in the Washington Post this week. The article also looks at the fallacy that is healthy food: "Our food is not healthy; we will be healthy if we eat nutritious food. Words matter … Because, and this is the judgment call, fat isn’t bad; stupid is bad. And until we have better information and clearer shared language defining our food, smart choices will be ever harder to make." It’s a very worthy read.
- If you like a visual and you haven’t seen Hugh’s Chicken Run find it and watch it. It’s been years since I did, but the lessons Fearnley-Whittingstall drew from running the two chicken sheds (barn vs free-range) side by side were absolutely fascinating. My lightbulb moment was the acknowledgement that the commercial breeds are largely unsuited to the outside world (as per Lethlean/Smithsonian above).
- Thus the importance of Sommerlads story and their victory in breeding birds other than Ross and Cobb and making them commercially available. The problem here is that Australia is incredibly limited in regards to poultry genetics and further hampered by our quarantine restrictions. Note that Lethlean has been a massive (and rightful) campaigner of the Sommerlads people.
- Finally, I give you the Choice study on the vastly different stocking densities allowed within the free-range egg code. It will give you some idea of the argument I believe to be at the crux of the article. This does need to be sorted out, in regards to both meat chickens and egg chickens.
I wholeheartedly agree the free-range guidelines are paltry (ha!) in comparison to what they should be. They need to be fixed. Lethlean is right to champion that cause and I am behind him 100%. I just don’t agree with the fried chicken click bait he chose to employ on the way through.