April 2, 2011

Hello, Food

“I don’t want chickens in backyards because they’re dirty, and I don’t want to be that personally acquainted with my food,” said council member Jan Robison.

In many urban and suburban communities, residents are starting to take an interest in owning chickens;  backyard chicken ownership is on the upswing.  People are recognizing how easy it is to care for them, the benefits of fresh eggs, free fertilizer and automatic garden de-bugging (is that a word? I say it is.).

Henrico County, near Richmond, VA, has a huge grass-roots movement to legalize backyard chickens. CHICKUNZ has been gathering supporters and petitioning for looser restrictions on backyard chicken ownership.  "The group wants localities to adopt looser rules for chicken ownership so that people can keep as many as a half-dozen birds in backyards in residential areas." (Richmond Magazine)  They aren't asking for flocks of a hundred or even to own noisy roosters. Just simply want to have some unobtrusive hens who will happily cluck and occasionally squawk when they lay an egg.

And now Laurel, MD residents, at least one in particular, are petitioning to legalize backyard chickens in their area.  What astounded me was the response from council member Jan Robison that she didn't want to be personally acquainted with her food.  To each their own, but I kinda like knowing where my food is coming from.  Maybe it's because I watched Food, Inc. or read Joel Salatin's book "Pastured Poultry Profits" which describes how industrial chicken plants process the poultry; but I like knowing where my food came from.

I grew up spending my summers on my grandparent's farm in southern Illinois.  Every summer, we would finish off a steer and our families would divide up the butchered meat. Half the cow fed my own family of five for an entire year.  The other half was split between my grandparents and my aunt and her family of three.  A whole cow fed three entire families for a year!  Our cows were given names like Hamburger and T-bone. Once, a hog fattened for a 4th of July pig roast was named Bacon. We fed the animals daily and took care of them as livestock, not as pets.  When it came time to take the cattle to the butcher, my brother, who was about 5 years old when we butchered Hamburger, didn't really understand where Hamburger went. Nor did he correlate Hamburger's absence with our grilled burgers and steaks. But he did know on some level, as all of us children knew, that these animals were our sustenance.  They were the food on our tables.

Not everyone needs to be that up close and personal with their meals. But I think there's a vast difference between eating your livestock and eating the eggs from the chickens in your backyard. Fortunately for Jan Robison, she doesn't have to be personally acquainted with meat on her dinner plate.  She can continue to purchase her food from the grocery store. But do her personal desires to distance herself from the reality of how that food arrives on her plate give her the right to ban others from the same?

Me thinks someone won't be re-elected next term.

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