Chicken scandal: your thoughts

Chicken scandal: your thoughts

In the September issue of delicious. magazine Andrew Webb’s rant about chicken provoked a slew of rallying responses from you. Here, we share his words on tasteless chicken, your views on his rant and a response from the author.

The rant:
We need to talk about chicken

Roast chicken was once a special and flavourful treat. Now, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the magnolia wall paint of the meat world. How has this noble bird been laid so low?

Do you like chicken? Of course you do. Everyone does, right? What does it taste of, then? Close your eyes and describe its flavour and aroma. Not that of gravy, or the spicy sauce slathered on it, or the crisp texture, but the actual taste of proper chicken? Tricky isn’t it?

chicken-casserole
Here’s why: the average age at which a standard store-bought chicken in the EU is slaughtered is just 42 days. These birds are bred to gain weight quickly and because they don’t have a chance to fully mature, they never develop proper muscle – or flavour. It takes less time for a chicken to go from hatching to slaughter than it does for you to have a pair of curtains made to order. And far from being the lean choice we may think it is, cheap chicken now has almost three times as much fat as it had in 1970. A 2009 study at London Metropolitan University found that 45 years ago chicken had 8g fat per 100g serving, while today it has more than 22g per serving; that’s twice the amount in a portion of ice cream (while the amount of protein has declined by a third).

How, dear reader, has our chicken become nothing more than a texture, a carrier for other obfuscating flavours? Few food products make me as mad as ‘dishes’ that feature skinless boneless chicken breasts. Thick skin and strong bones are where the flavour is, for crying out loud. The worst of these sorts of dishes are things like pesto chicken.

Punchy pesto is designed for bulky bland foods like… pasta! When chicken has become so bland, flabby and tasteless you have to smear it in a gloopy sauce for it to taste of anything, you know something’s wrong.

thai-chicken
A few years ago, consumers were outraged about the horsemeat scandal, after which sales of cheap burgers and meals featuring mince fell dramatically. Yet in July 2014, when secretly taken footage showed raw chickens lying on filthy factory floors, and subsequent tests by the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) found 8 out of 10 birds were infected with the bacteria campylobacter, people kept buying chicken. The most recent FSA investigation, in May 2015, found that 73 per cent of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter. Is infected chicken the ‘new normal’?

Instead of consumers applying pressure to producers and retailers to improve processes, we let them ‘address the problem’ by attaching a little sticker that reads ‘Don’t wash poultry’. That’s it, a sticker.

You obviously love good, tasty, well-produced food; that’s why you read delicious. So I want to end on a positive note about how good chicken can be. The best chicken I’ve eaten was a 100-day-old bird. It tasted of chicken. It needed slow cooking. It fed eight of us and its large and meaty thighbone was nearly six inches long.

When it comes to cheese or beef, we accept that time is an ingredient that ages and deepens the flavour. It’s time we started to demand that for chicken. Who’s with me?

Click next to read what our readers said about Andrew’s chicken rant…

What you said:

Dear Andrew Webb
I’m with you! Your article in delicious. was concise, and focused on the (arguably) most important downsides of our consumption of factory-farmed chicken. You didn’t even get on to the animal welfare aspects of the industry or the wider implications of the over-use of antibiotics as growth-promoters. No room on the page? The editors could have given you a little more space by omitting the sentimentalised little picture of a proud cockerel strutting before his doting harem! I look forward to your follow-up articles.
Doreen Parry

I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew Webb. When I was a child in the ’50’s, chicken was a rare and wonderful treat usually only afforded at Christmas or Easter, and my word what a treat it was! One large golden bird glistening from the oven and accompanied by my mum’s legendary roasties would feed seven of us and fill the house with the most amazing aroma! I only have one small quibble with Andrew – where did he find the glorious chicken he described in his article? I WANT one!
Mrs Veronica Newton

chicken-mexican
Having read Andrew Webb’s article, I do completely agree with his point. I find there’s no comparison between a free-range older chicken and one bought cheaply from a supermarket. I appreciate that, near me, an organic free-range chicken from a local farm shop costs around £15 so I can see the appeal of the cheaper option. Reading Andrew’s article also reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend from Hungary. She said that when she moved to England she was very surprised that you cannot buy chickens of different ages. She stated that in Hungary, chickens of different ages are sold and people buy an age of chicken depending on which dish or flavour you want, in a similar way to how we would buy either lamb or mutton. It would be great to have that here. More tasty chickens, please!
Lucy Halliday

Andrew Webb left me hanging. I’m with him but don’t know where we’re going. I haven’t eaten chicken since I read in delicious. that even free-range organic chickens only live for weeks before they are slaughtered. In my naivety, I’d thought that if a chicken was free-range and organic that it had led a long and happy life before ending up on my plate. I just can’t justify eating it now. I’d feel like the final stage in a production line. So, I’d like to ask Andrew what our two-person army needs to do to start the revolution? Long live the chicken!
Suzie Jones

I bought my first issue in June (I know, I am ashamed), by July I’d subscribed and the September issue is my first issue by post and already I’m writing in!
I love chicken, actually I love birds. Turkey, poussin, guinea fowl… but where to buy them? In the UK, if you are a conscious shopper and eater you can buy great meat from butchers and farmers’ markets. I’m lucky enough to have a tiny independent farm where I get beef, pork and lamb but birds seem to be supermarket only. I want organic, free-range, happy poultry but cannot find a local supplier. Where can we buy this wonderful meat in the knowledge that it hasn’t been locked in a barn, deprived of daylight with no access to water or a pond? It’s a great article by Andrew Webb and I, for one, am with him!
Caroline Crick

roast-chicken
For years I’ve been telling my children not to buy cheap chicken. My motto is you can only ever hope to get out what you put in. If you feed them rubbish, expect it back tenfold. I’m a firm believer that you should try to eat as healthily as possible. At times this means going without while you save up for a treat. Unfortunately cheap food has been made readily available and, more unfortunately, it has become the norm for people to purchase these items on a daily basis while they believe they are eating healthily! Young mums should be able to access articles like Andrew’s to help them think more about what they are feeding themselves and their families.
Jackie Harris

I totally agree with Andrew. We should raise our chickens more humanely and for longer and be prepared to pay more for them. Our superb Barry the Butcher in Stratford upon Avon does large Shropshire chickens for about a tenner. Great flavour and texture and we get three meals and great stock for a soup from one bird.
Nigel and Anne de Gay

Yes, we absolutely need to talk about chicken. It is appalling to think that it takes less time to for a chicken to go from hatching to slaughter than to have curtains made. No wonder these chickens have a reduced nutritional value, have more bacteria and are tasteless. When I was young, chicken was a special treat. It was raised properly and as such, was costly to rear and buy but it was a tasty, rare feast and all the better for it. The insistence of providing cheap meat is an anathema and the sooner people realise that, the better. If we don’t have respect for the animals we breed for food and be prepared to pay the price for properly reared animals, why should we expect anything else? I’m with Andrew Webb, without a doubt!
Nia Swift

What Andrew said:
It’s great that my piece struck such a chord, although I feel I only just scratched the surface. I could easily have gone on for another few pages. I’m delighted readers care as much about animal welfare and farming issues as they do about making tasty food. After all, good cooking starts with well produced ingredients, and by voting with our purses (and tastebuds) we can make chickens’ lives happier.

At the moment the industry isn’t offering us much; a 42-day-old bird that is either organic, free-range, or standard – that’s it. Could you imagine wine, bread or chocolate having such limited choice? We should stop buying poorly-produced chicken until the industry can clean up its act and give us better quality birds that actually taste of something. That’s something I think many of us would be be prepared to pay for. ”

Our chicken recommendations:
We recommend buying chicken from your local butcher or through trusted mail order companies such as pipersfarm.com and thoughtfulproducer.co.uk. Andrew also recommends The Ginger Pig (London) or freerangebirds.co.uk.

Recipes:
Find lots of chicken recipes here.

Have your say:
Do you agree with Andrew or have another point to add? Leave your responses in the comment section below.

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