(This is the third in a series of ten Friday posts about Backyard Chickens to give an overview of my experiences these past two years.)
At first glance this statement might seem counterintuitive. How in the world can taking care of chickens make my eating life easier? They have to be fed and watered, the coop needs to be opened and closed so they can exercise, and we have to corral volunteers to collect eggs when we are away.
Our chickens spend their entire day scratching, eating, bathing, and looking for ways to escape (which has happened – thank goodness for patient neighbors). And yet, keeping chickens makes my eating choices easier the same way planting my own lettuce makes my eating world easier.
When I say eating world, I mean my decision to eat consciously. I have always been a vegetarian leaning, salad-munching hippie, and then I started reading. I found Animal, Vegetable, Miracle easier than reading Fast Food Nation. Fast Food Nation makes me want to hit walls and scream. (Interesting how both titles create tripping triad of treble words on my tongue.) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was a clarion call. A trumpeting herald shouting to me that I can choose foods that are grown locally and in a manner harmonious with my values.
But boy, that decision has certainly been interesting the more one learns. And I am by no means 100 percent strict about this. I prefer Wilde’s edict – “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” But still, I try.
Part of that effort was a seven-month campaign to research keeping chickens before we actually committed to purchasing them. Though when they actually arrived, I felt like I was once again a first-year teacher. Nothing I read could have prepared me. Like so many of the good things in life (marriage, friendships, having children – I hear – and keeping pets) after taking the plunge, the fun becomes the experience.
The chickens evolved from fluff balls pecking my freckles with pencil taps to ladies equipped with sharp arrows for beaks that gouge my legs. When we walk out to their area, they come waddling out to greet us. I found our dog likes to eat chicken feces, and the only way to get it out of his fur is to cut it out. The dog still likes to visit the chickens in their cordoned area (he has feces to find). The cat avoids the whole scene.
And yes, the eating part. There is nothing easier than grabbing a warm egg from the laying box, cracking it open, and taking two minutes to cook it. Eggs can go on top of toast, oatmeal, salad, hamburgers, polenta, pasta, rice, etc. – they are key ingredients in lots of baking recipes. After the initial investment, eggs are an accessible cheap protein. They are always there in the back garden waiting to be collected and eaten.
Michael Pollan mentioned at his Ann Arbor fundraiser that we no longer think of foods as foods and instead think of them as a collection of nutrients. So I will address cholesterol. According to Mayo Clinic, if you are healthy they recommend you eat less than 300 mgs of cholesterol a day. A large chicken egg yolk has about 219 mgs of cholesterol.
Before you stop eating egg yolks, here is another piece of information for you. 90 gms of most meats (lamb, goose, duck, chicken, steak, turkey) have about 80-90 mgs of cholesterol. A “normal” portion of meat is 90 gms, about 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. Therefore when you have a steak at a restaurant, you are probably eating three times that much meat and thus, 270 mgs of cholesterol.
So I eschew most other forms of meat protein and I eat our eggs. I know exactly how the animals are treated and what they are eating. I know they are living their chicken lives in the fullness of what that means in the pullet-world. Though the word locavore strikes me as sounding a bit like a helmet design, these eggs define the term and, bonus, they are delicious.
(originally posted in annarbor.com)