May 5, 2011 by Leah
As long-time readers know, this blog sometimes revolves around dead chickens to an inordinate degree. The topic debuted in September in The Frugal Chicken?; I was a whole-chicken basket case by later that month. I got a little preoccupied by my garden for a while, although chickens did show up on the list of worries that seems to have become a tad infamous amongst friends and family. Then there was the heady time I thought I’d found it – my perfect, pastured chicken – that went so horribly, horribly awry. A few weeks later, I mentioned my chicken compromise at the end of this post, admitting that I decided that Step 3 on the Whole Foods Animal Welfare Rating Scale was good enough to eat, even though Step 4 is really the lower limit of what I would buy in a perfect world. (“Access to the outdoors” is a useless demarcation in this country; however, the alternative is a 90-120 minute L. A. freeway adventure on a weekend morning. You can see why I called it the way I did.)
During my last few visits (spanning more than a month) to the Whole Foods butcher counter, a sign advertising “Step 5” chickens has been prominently attached to the wall. (These chickens, in point of fact.) I’ve noted this sign every time while I’m bantering with the butchers, waiting for them to wrap my “Step 3” chicken. (The guys behind the meat counter at the Long Beach Whole Foods are, to a man, awesome. I wish they’d hire a woman, though.) I’ve been incredibly curious about this as the only chicken in the display case is rated as a Step 3. That said, I’m almost incapable of asking people for help in stores. I also hate approaching strangers, cold-calling people on the telephone (or pretty much using the phone at all), and being asking if I need anything by retail personnel. As much as I was wondering about the elusive “Step 5” chicken, I didn’t ask.
Earlier this week, I went to Whole Foods for a chicken (it’s been a while since I bought one because a dear friend sent us a Virginia ham as an anniversary present and I’ve been going wild using ham in everything – ham and cheese omelets, ham and asparagus fritatta, chicken cordon bleu, ham and bean soup, etc. etc. – it’s been SO fun). As I turned away from the butcher counter, I caught sight of some whole chickens packaged in plastic in the refrigerated section. The packaging said “pasture-raised.” It also said some stuff about “slow grown.” Could it really be? I picked one up and turned it over. There it was on the price tag: “Step 5.” And for $3.79 a pound, the same price as the “Step 3” chickens. I was elated. Unfortunately, I already had a paper-wrapped “Step 3” chicken under my arm. Next time, then.