Poultry and Promises

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A few months ago I volunteered to write a book review for the Botanic Garden newsletter. A friend had recommended the selection and while I read with an eye towards fulfilling my commitment, I was surprisingly swept up in a story that has, and is quickly altering my consumption choices.

As a general rule, I don't do fast food. I'm not much into boxes or packages, because I simply didn't grow up with them. I don't drink carbonation. And I don't eat red meat. (Okay, except for an In-N-Out burger in the company of close friends, and that's only annually, if that.) It might be possible for me to be a vegetarian, if it weren't for the chicken and fish. That said, I understand talking about food can be a touchy subject. People are very attached to how and what they eat. It's comforting. We do it three times a day. And sometimes it's hard to change. I get that. And while we may not all be able to live like the Kingsolver clan, I find it fascinating how this book has impacted me in such a significant way.*

An excerpt of my review.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. (2007). A consummate storyteller, Barbara Kingsolver, documents the journey of moving her family from Arizona to a farm in rural Virginia, where they abandon traditional agribusiness to live a year off the food they grow themselves, purchase locally, or live without. Co-written with her husband and daughter, respectively Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, this memoir is a genuine family affair. Never has asparagus been written about so passionately. From harvesting earthy morels (a type of edible wild mushrooms) in April; visiting Amish dairy farmers in Ohio during strawberry season; raising young poults that would latter become Thanksgiving dinner; to harvesting a never ending supply of tomatoes and zucchini, this book clearly illustrates the idea that food is not a product but a process. Written in an accessible, non-preachy style the books sidebar features include recipes for using food in-season; insights into the dietary and global implications of commodity crops, pesticides, and genetically modified food; practical questions to ask at your conventional grocery store, and a genuine success story of one family's return to the land.

Fast forward two weeks to the world's strangest impulse purchase. A whole chicken. A what? Yes, turns out, when you ask a butcher innocuous questions, such as: Where was this chicken raised?; Did it spend its life in a cage?; What was it feed?; Was it given any type of growth hormones?, the Eastern Market vendor will than automatically assume you want to purchase the item in question. I'd been poultry punk'd and wound up walking away with a three pound bird.

This morning I set out to tackle my purchase. Cutting off legs and wings, maneuvering through tendon and bone, while trying to preserve the integrity of the skin turned out to be a challenge. (Growing up my mother did this all the time. I now know what skill she possessed.) At one point, with my kitchen shears slicing through the back bone and ribs of the waxy creature, I thought I'd give up poultry altogether. It truth, the dissection turned out to be more emotional than I anticipated. This animal had given its life for me. It became oddly intimate, and while I'm no Ina Garten, I did manage to end up with six descent pieces, which later became a succulent fare of Lemon Tuscan Chicken.

(*Side effects may include being slightly appalled at the appearance of watermelon and pineapple cubes masquerading as acceptable food at social functions in February. True story.)


  1. Though you did LOVE that In-and-Out Burger, huh? ;)


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