Sustainable Eating #6: Good Shepherd Heritage Chicken

2010 Continues!

A lot of exciting things are supposed to happen this year.  If Arthur C. Clarke is right, this is the year that Jupiter will turn into a sun thanks to Roy Schneider.  We’re 2 years away from the Mayan (Aztec?) apocalypse.  Yep, this is an exciting time to be alive!

In all seriousness, while 2010 is a year of great opportunity, it’s also one of great challenge with the glocal economy still on shaky footing, joblessness soaring acros the world, and some very credible evidence that the environment is getting more and more unstable.  Fixing the environment is a big job, but it’s not so big if we all pitch in.  That’s why Caitlin from Roaming Tales and I are doing this series on sustainable eating: so everyone can make informed decisions about food and the food supply. 

Happy Earth Day!  Ready to celebrate with

Good Shepherd Heritage Chicken

Last weekend I had the honor to judge a Good Shepherd heritage chicken cooking contest alongside Gardening expert (and generally one of the most gracious men I’ve ever met) P. Allen Smith, LA Times food critic Jonathon Gold, Cookbook Author M0lly O’Neill, and Kansas City culinary legend Jasper Mirable (who you might have noticed I talk about on the blog a bit.) 

During the contest, we tried four recipes.  All were delicious, but sadly only could win: Chicken a la Tucson.  I’ll post the link to the winning recipe as soon as I get it.

Still, as much as I enjoyed the contest, last Saturday was more than a taste experience for me.  It was an educational experience.  I thought I knew what went into making a good chicken.  I was wrong.

Heritage Chicken — Read If You Care About Your Food

I learned something this weekend that I found completely shocking.  Most commerical chickens that you buy at the store come from a single, genetically engineered species of chicken.  This chicken has been breed to be several hundred times larger than a wild chicken and to reach maturity far, far sooner (like months sooner.)  This is a poor breed.  These chickens cannot survive without human invention and cannot reproduce without being artificially inseminated.

These chickens are so huge they can barely move on their own power.  Their meat is flaccid because the chickens are immobile and their bones are limp and weak because the chickens are not allowed to mature before they are slaughtered.

They are creations from a lab and sadly, even some organic chicken, which is supposed to be better for you, comes from this breed because the term “organic” governs how they were raised, not what species they are.

So What’s a Heritage Chicken

A few chicken ranchers, including the people at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, have literally scoured the globe  to find original, natural breeds of poultry.  These ranchers are trusting nature, not technology to produce superior birds.  They then raised the poultry with a lot of care, but without antibotics or GMO food.  Basically, the same thing as your organic standards, but the chickens are real, natural breeds of bird.

These birds are hardy and healthy.  Even better, they can reproduce for years without needing to help from humans.

But Why Does Heritage Chicken Matter?

There are a couple of reasons why heritage chicken is important.  Take your pick.

  1. Protection of the food supply.  Biodiversity (many species)  is crucial to our survival as humans.  Why?  Well, let’s imagine a scenario where a flu for bids, a bird flu if you will, infects the chicken population.  The more species of chicken out there, the greater the likelihood that at least one of those species will prove resistant to flu.  Also, they are naturally hardy and can survive adverse conditions.
  2. Environmental Impact.  Heritage chicken is better for the environment because it requires less artifical help for living and reproduction.
  3. Taste.  They’re delicious.  Did you know that chicken does have to flat and flavorless?  It’s not when it’s heritage chicken.  Oh, heritage poultry has won a few awards, too.

I mean, they have to be on to something for me to write this post.  Their CEO, Frank Reese, is a K-State fan and I’m still giving him mad props.  You know how I feel about K-State fans!

Is Heritage Chicken Perfect?

No.  Let’s be honest.  Heritage chicken has two issues with it.

The first is cost.  Sadly, currently heritage chicken operations do not have the same economies of scale that more common chicken operations enjoy.  Still, if you want to fall in love with chicken again, it’s worth it.

The second is preparation.  I should have known something was up that the cooking instructions for every chicken, no matter if it was raised locally, 200 miles away or 2,000 miles away, uses the exact same cook times.  That shouldn’t be possible unless they are using the exact same chicken. 

Heritage chicken, on the other hand, varies by breed.  So when you buy your chicken, you have to know what breed it is because you cannot use certain birds for certain applications.  Then, you’re just going to have to cook it longer than you might otherwise because heritage poultry are real birds with real firm bones that actually benefit from cooking for far longer than you could ever hope to cook a lab bird.

Interested in Heritage Chicken?

I hope you’re interested in trying it.

I think you’ll be happy with it.

The best thing you can do is ask around.  I get my Good Shepherd heritage chicken at my local non-Whole Foods grocery store so ask around.  You can even buy your heritage poultry online.

So, give it a shot.   It’s sustainable.  It’s delicious.  It’s good for the future.


1 Comment

  1. Chris the chicken can still breed on it own. The problem is the off spring of this breeding can not live long enough to breed on its own. So that makes it a dead end product and the farmer must always go back to the factory breeding farm to get their birds. This is what they call synthetic hybrid production. A fancy word for multiple hybrid breeding that only a factory breeding system can do and not a single family farm. This form of breeding includes Cornish Rocks, Label Rue, Freedom Rangers, Red Bro, Red Broilers, Black Broilers and all broiler that grow faster then 80 days from hatch. The lady who said these birds are just a name given to this birds is wrong. These are all standard bred birds that go back over 100 years. Our package comes with the American Poultry Association seal of approval. In other words this are true old pure bred breeds and not a hybrid cross.

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