That Perfect Chicken? Not So Much.


May 6, 2011 by Leah

I was doing some research today and it dawned on me that I was so excited to find pastured chickens for sale at Whole Foods that I hadn’t looked into what these chickens are fed. I clicked over to the Mary’s website and my heart fell when I realized that the website was advertising “vegetarian feed” all over the place. When I managed to find the actual composition of the chicken feed (and, I have to say, props to the people at Mary’s for making this information easily accessible), I discovered the pasture-raised birds are fed: “70% Corn, 25% Soybean Meal, 5% Vitamins and Minerals.” Furthermore, they’re advertised as: “Gluten Free, No Preservatives, No Antibiotics Ever,
Raised Without Added Hormones.” I never even THOUGHT to look for a gluten-free chicken. I mean, it’s delicious bird meat, not bread.

I kind of want to stab someone in the eye. Maybe myself.

Anyone who has read The Omnivore’s Dilemma will remember that the problems caused for our society by massive overproduction of commodity crops are myriad. This lovely, perfect chicken I was so pleased to find? Its feed is entirely made up of commodity crops. Including soy.

Unfermented soy is bad for us. Particularly for those of us who already have an underactive thyroid. I used to love eating tofu, but when I met Aaron I started cutting out soy because he refused to eat it on the basis of being terrified that all the phytoestrogens would interfere with his hormones. Fair enough. We’re not perfect on the soy thing yet, because it’s hard to find an organic fair-trade soy-free dark chocolate bar (soy lecithin is in EVERYTHING) and the tortilla chips I tend to buy are cooked with “either canola or soybean oil.” (Note to self: stop buying tortilla chips, even if there are only four ingredients.) For more on the problems with soy, Dr. Mercola has a wealth of information. Start here.

Okay, so the 25% of the chicken that is basically soy is very bad for us. What about the corn? Well, Mary’s offers several different kinds of chickens to the general public. The “free range air chilled” variety is fed the same things as the “free range air chilled California Bronze pasture raised” chicken. The “free range air chilled organic” chicken enjoys the same diet, except that these chickens get GMO-free corn. By extension, the other chickens are eating genetically modified corn. And what about the soybeans? 91% of soybeans grown in this country are genetically modified. Most of them by Monsanto and marketed under the “Roundup Ready” brand. You know, so they can spray pesticides over the fields and every living thing but the soy plants will die. Check out what the Union of Concerned Scientists has to say about this issue. (Also, USDA-certified organic foods have to be at least 95% organic to get that certification. Not 100%. FYI.)

The other thing that about kills me when I look at the list of chickens offered by Mary’s is that most of our food labels mean nothing. “Free range” clearly does not mean “pasture raised,” and “pasture raised” clearly does not mean the chickens were raised as a part of a biodynamic, grass-based farm ecosystem (that’s where I went wrong). How many more ridiculous labels will the industry come up with in order to mislead us about how our food was raised? And is there an alternative?

Yeah, actually – for me, there is. I’m lucky because all I have to do is take two hours out of a weekend and burn a lot of gas to head to a farmers’ market and buy a chicken from Healthy Family Farms. Where they have that grass-based farm ecosystem thing going on. And the chickens eat, “bugs, insects and worms. You know, what birds eat?”


5 thoughts on “That Perfect Chicken? Not So Much.

  1. Kristina says:

    What if you bought several chickens from the 2-hour away place, and put all but one in a deep freeze for later? Is there anything else out there, for you to do/see/purchase that would make the trip seem not as wasteful?

  2. leahkathlyn says:

    We don’t have a deep freeze but our regular freezer is looking a little empty, and we all know they’re most efficient when full, right? I like your idea a lot. I discovered I can place my order ahead of time and just pick up at the farmers’ market of my choice (they don’t get closer than about 45 minutes away), so I’m ordering chicken feet and necks for stock, chicken livers for pate, and a few whole chickens. Yay! And, I suppose I could stop by the LA Phil box office and use up the rest of a gift certificate we have. That would be a good use of a trip into town.

  3. Daiva says:

    Oh boy, I just paid so much for their “pastured” chicken just to find out it is corn and soy fed…

  4. leah pressman says:

    I was also impressed with Mary’s chicken at first glance. I wanted to add that for some reason the prepared chickens sold at Whole Foods list SEVERAL DIFFERENT SUGARS in the ingredients.

  5. Sophie says:

    Wow, thank you for your affirming and informative article. I have stayed away from chickens for several years now for several reasons. One was due to confusion with labelling and the other was that my taste buds put me off to the taste of chickens. I had switched to only pastured raised beef and it was clear the cattle was 100% pasture raised. One large farm in my area claimed their chickens were truly pastured raised only part of the year – spring and summer.

    This past year on a few occasions, I purchased Sonoma Reds “pasture raised.” Last Friday, while investigation Mary’s pasture chickens, I discover that both companies use the same feed. What!!! I was furious that Whole Foods allows such shenanigans. I told their meat department, they have lost my trust. The butcher said he would pass it on to the team leader. I know WF makes you fill out voluminous forms when you want to sell with them. And aren’t they claiming to be leaders in the field of “whole foods?”

    This experience proves once again why one must research research research. I sent an email to Healthy Family Farms in hopes they may know someone in my area. As well, I will make contact again with a woman who use to raise pasture chickens. We spoke when I did a paper for my Journalism class about organic foods. Btw, she had frozen chickens she raised in her freezer. The family sold the farm. Nancy told me back then that Mary’s were not truly pasture raised. The chickens should be free to roam, eating green grass, worms and other little creature that meander through the earth. Does our government such wide latitudes when using food terms? It is hard to imagine these companies would do so otherwise.

    I’m outraged. I paid a premium price for a faux product at Whole Foods! I take responsibility and will locate reliable sources. Again thank you for writing this article. 🙂

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