I've been in research mode with my farmer friends trying to learn about the differences between locally raised meat products, and those that are mass produced through big agribusiness. The basic premise of our experiment is human dignity, and the belief that it is important to know and care for the people involved in bringing our food and other products to market. But as I learn about the processes of bringing meat to market, I'm reminded that I need to add another dimension of dignity to our premise; chicken dignity.
Rich Mouw, one of my mentors, helped me understand this dignity when he described the comments of a man at a gathering of Mennonite and Dutch Reformed farmers;
Colonel Sanders wants us to think of chickens only in terms of dollars and cents," he announced. "They are nothing but little pieces of meat to be bought and sold for food. And so we're supposed to crowd them together in small spaces and get them fat enough to be killed."
"But that's wrong! The Bible says that God created every animal 'after its own kind.' Chickens aren't people, but neither are they nothing but hunks of meat. Chickens are chickens, and they deserve to be treated like chickens! This means that we have to give each chicken the space to strut its stuff in front of other chickens.
I like the idea of a "strut your stuff" test for human and chicken dignity. If a person doesn't have a chance to strut their human stuff in making, growing, and producing a product, then something is wrong. Of course chicken dignity is a different kind of dignity, but it deserves strutting nonetheless.
In my research I was talking to Dave Mcculough, from Susie David's Cattle. Dave has a herd of 16 grass fed cattle that he shepherds north of Spokane near Mt. St. Michael. He also has a big chicken coup with some hearty hens that provide us with eggs. In the midst of learning the ins and outs of the beef industry over the phone, he told me about the way his huge bull cow was playing with the calves out in the field yesterday. He praised the steer for being so gentle, and said the scene would have made a great picture; a big bull, getting worked over by a little calf, strutting his stuff, and everyone enjoying it, including Dave. There's a lot of dignity going on in that picture, both human and cow.
So stay tuned for more on the virtues of grass fed beef, but let it be known that the best part, as far as I'm concerned, is the strutting.
For more on chicken dignity go to the post on Happy Chickens.