on the relative costs of chicken and beer

I’m not a huge fan of celebrity chefs. Generally speaking, it’s a phenomenon that I don’t get. I mean I understand that food’s important, as it’s necessary to sustain life and all, but I don’t get why we’re supposed to care about the men and women who read us recipes on television… Anyway, with all of that said, I read this article about the British chef Jamie Oliver yesterday in the “New York Times” and found myself really liking him. It seems as though he’s using his celebrity chef status not just to get laid and sell books, but to initiate culture change in the direction of sustainability… Here’s a clip:

Last Friday, in front of 4 million television viewers and a studio audience, the chef Jamie Oliver killed a chicken. Having recently obtained a United Kingdom slaughterman’s license, Mr. Oliver staged a “gala dinner,” in fact a kind of avian snuff film, to awaken British consumers to the high costs of cheap chicken.

“A chicken is a living thing, an animal with a life cycle, and we shouldn’t expect it will cost less than a pint of beer in a pub,” he said Monday in an interview.

“It only costs a bit more to give a chicken a natural life and a reasonably pleasant death,” he told the champagne-sipping audience before he stunned the chicken, cut an artery inside its throat, and let it bleed to death, all in accordance with British standards for humane slaughter.

Mr. Oliver said that he wanted people to confront the reality that eating any kind of meat involves killing an animal, even if it is done with a minimum of pain…

At first I thought that it might have been a ratings stunt, but the more I think about it, the more I think it might have been motivated by a genuine belief that people should appreciate where their meat comes from… And a chicken really should cost more than a pint of beer… Someone should make a bumper sticker.

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8 Comments

  1. Deadhand Dan
    Posted January 17, 2008 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    That is a cool clip. I very much think that I should be able to kill and clean and butcher the animals that I eat. Almost none of us ever has to do that anymore. It should be a rule. You should have to do it yourself at the grocery store.

    Today, I had some sausage made from venison that a friend shot this hunting season. The sausage had blueberries in it – it was amazingly delicious. Someone joked that it must be extremely rare to be lucky enough to shoot a deer while it’s eating blueberries to get sausage like that. The guy who hunts talked about one time when a deer he shot once looked at him with big brown eyes, begging to be put to death, it seemed to the hunter. It really got to him. Has anything you’ve eaten ever looked you in the eye?

  2. mark
    Posted January 18, 2008 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I agree. I also think that people should see what takes place in factory farms, where animals are raised and killed by machines… Chickens aren’t widgits… I’m not suggesting that people not eat meat necessarily. I’m still conflicted about that. At the very least, however, they should appreciate the life that they’re responsible for ending.

  3. Thoreau
    Posted January 18, 2008 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    In the past week I have seen two bumper stickers that I found ironic.

    The first I was following a Toyota Tundra. The bumper sticker said “Support your local Brewery.”

    The next day I was behind a black Honda Civic and the bumper sticker said “I suppor local everything.”

    The buy local idea has become so popular lately. And its good. But why does it seem to apply to food and drink only?

    (Obviously the Hinda driver does not support local EVERYTHING. And the Tundra driver can support his local brewery, but hell with local workers.

  4. Rex
    Posted January 19, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the toyota tundra made in Indiana or Texas? And couldn’t that honda have been made in Ohio or Alabama? I’m not sure what car I could buy that is made in Washtenaw county.

    While there are definitely hosts on the food network that are a complete waste of space in my view, I’d say most of the celebrity chefs are celebrities for a reason. Jamie Oliver has done a lot for food culture in England. He’s been a leading supporter of overhauling food in the schools and promoting healthier eating without selling a product line.

    I feel like it is a little bit over the top to call the big names recipe readers. For the most part, they’ve actually paid some culinary dues to be where they are. Sandra Lee and Paula Deen, on the other hand, are killing America.

  5. dan from austin
    Posted January 20, 2008 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    I think (from an animal rights perspective) that the chicken is the most maltreated animal there is. Most of the male chicks are killed when hatched (by basically being thrown in dumpsters, I think…, the females either get caged for a year or two and have eggs pumped out of them at unnatural rates and, when production drops are killed, or are raised until “plump” and then killed for food.
    Poor chickens…
    I just wrote a much longer piece, but realized that “poor chickens” basically summed it up.

  6. Posted January 21, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I think you have to project _a lot_ of human emotions to feel much for chickens. It might live in worse conditions than pigs do, but when you look a pig or even a cow in its eye, there’s something there. Chickens…you hold one and it’s alive, but it’s not at all like your cat or dog. It’s not even on the same plane of existence. When you look one in the eye, it’s just hollow and fish-like and vastly dumber seeming than a pigeon or duck or cockatiel.

    It’s bad to raise them in little boxes because they experience pain and deserve some respect as living creatures, but their mistreatment is on a totally different plane from that of pigs or cows on factory farms. You might as well get stressed out about how salmon farms operate. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a lot easier to get free-range chicken than free-range pig or cow.

    FWIW, check out Gordon Ramsey’s The F Word episodes where he raises and slaughters a pair of pigs. I dunno if I feel worse for Gordon or for the pigs…

  7. egpenet
    Posted January 21, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    “Poor chickens” … my butt! If you don’t want to eat meat, fine, but chickens, as with any other creaturee, shouldn’t be abused or taken for granted. Critters are critters. Some eeat and get eaten.

    If you don’t like chicken for food, raise’em for the eggs.

  8. dan from austin
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    “I think you have to project _a lot_ of human emotions to feel much for chickens.”
    I call bullshit on this comment. If you only experience chickens in cages or in factory famrs, then I can see where they just seem like lower life, but when you encounter a free range chicken (like mine) you can see that they are curious and learning creatures and that we do indeed treat them terribly.
    Birds are not as easy for us to identify with as other mammals, but to call them dumb or empty is to be the worst kind of species-ist.
    Farm-raised salmon is an aberration, too. That’s why I don’t eat fish either.

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