Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Natural Order of Things

I eat meat.  Not an obscene amount, but I do eat it, and I do so with minimal guilt.  My feeling is that as long as I spend the extra dollar a pound or whatever it is to make sure I'm eating the remains of an animal that was treated humanely (i.e. did not spend its days standing knee-deep in its own poop, was not bred in such a way that it could not walk, etc. the way I'm not being facetious here, these things happen to 95% of the meat and poultry that this country eats), I'm OK.

So I'm always on the lookout for animal products that I can feel good about buying.  I was on the Chowhound boards the other day browsing and found quite a few comments regarding the "buddhist style" chickens coming from a company called Bo Bo Poultry.  The birds are apparently scrawnier, leaner and much more flavorful than the pampered fat chickens we are used to eating because they're allowed to run free and graze, they are not fed any hormones or antibiotics, and the particular breeds Bo Bo raises grow more slowly than those favored by industrial poultry operations.  They're raised upstate and processed in Brooklyn, which I particularly liked.  You know, local eating, New York pride, the whole thing.  

And something I liked even more, they're not sold in Whole Foods, Citarella or Dean & Deluca.  In fact, they're sold almost exclusively in ethnic markets, particularly in Asian communities.  Now I'm always trying to pretend that I still have some hippie cred, that ten years on the east coast and two Ivy League degrees haven't made me a yuppie (it's really a losing battle at this point), so I'm always happy to discover a product that the boring white folk haven't co-opted yet.  Here was my chance with the organic chicken.

I made my way down to the Cheung Kee Meat Market Corp on Mott Street, sort of exhilarated for this bird.  My one apprehension had to do with the fact that, as Bo Bo's clientele and the Buddhist religion demand, the head and feet are still attached to the chicken when it is sold.  Now I can deal with feet.  My mom learned to put chicken feet in her stock pot from her landlady in France back when she was living there in the 60s, so I grew up with her doing it at home, hence I do it on occasion as well.  I'll admit that sometimes the sight of a chicken toenail poking up out of a bubbling cauldron is sort of disconcerting, but you know, you wince and move on.

The head?  Not so sure about it.  But the more I thought about it, the more determined I was to deal with it.  I mean, if I'm really OK with the idea of eating animals, than I should really be OK with the concept that they once had heads.  Especially since, based on my limited experience with live chickens I think it is pretty clear that they belong below us on the food chain:

I came to the door of the meat market.  It smelled a bit weird, but I stepped inside the door anyway.  I could see the Bo Bo chickens in the cooler in the back, their intact heads and necks tucked neatly beneath their bodies.  My stomach began to flutter.  Perhaps this was not the best laid of plans.  But no, I will not be a hypocritical wimp.  I took one more step inside.  It was at this point that I noticed a basket three inches from my right shoulder.  Razor clams in a meat market?  Crap, those are duck beaks.  Actually, a whole basket of duck heads.  Oh hell no. 

I beat a hasty retreat back to the street, where I was almost assaulted by a flopping fish gasping for its last few breaths.  I continued downtown to Whole Foods, relieved to be returning to the land of the headless chickens.  

I feel a bit pathetic and citified.  I intend to go back again and give it another try.  But not now.  Later.  Much later.

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