Sunday, September 29, 2013

My chicken fiasco. I kind of got what I deserved.

Chef cook holding rotten chicken leg. Isolated on white - stock photo
A few nights ago I had a dinner disaster.  Ever had one of those?  Where everything goes wrong and even your backup options are botched?  Yep. That was me.  It was stressful and frustrating.  It finally turned out well and by that I mean that my husband and I got dinner on the table.  Dinner finally ended in success but it was a nightmare getting there.  In short, here's what happened.

I was preparing to make garlic, rosemary chicken.  This was one of my favorite tasty yet easy meals and I was looking forward to it all day.  For accompaniment I made celeriac mashed potatoes and peas.  I didn't buy local chicken this time around and when I opened that package I found that it was ROTTEN!  Yep, my stand-by cheap grocery store chicken was rotten.  It reeked and I obsessively disinfected my entire kitchen after throwing it into the outside garbage.  That will teach me huh?  What an absolute waste of chicken thighs.  I hate waste and I hate that I missed out on my favorite meal.  In the end we ended up having fried eggs with bacon on top of the mashed potatoes and celeriac with extra bacon on the side.  I completely forgot about the peas and I won't even go into the other backup meal option that failed.  Ugh!  What an evening. 

However, here is what I learned.  If you can, buy local chicken from a trusted source.  You know I've been reading a lot about how the quality of chicken in the U.S. is going down.  To make matters worse, apparently recently the USDA just approved U.S. or Canadian raised chicken to be processed in China and then imported back into the U.S.
Here's a somewhat biased article on the subject
Here's what the USDA's own blog says on the matter.
Oh, sure this makes perfect sense right?  Let's send our chicken to China to be processed under "annually approved" conditions and then send it back here to be sold.  There are many disturbing unanswered questions but for me there is one glaring question that keeps me up at night.  How do you define processed?  The USDA's blog seems to refer to processing as cooked poultry but it doesn't specifically say so.  However, this is what I found on their site about poultry processing Q & A section.
What is poultry processing?
Poultry processing is the term used by the poultry industry to describe the conversion of live poultry into raw poultry products fit for human consumption.
Am I right in assuming that according to this definition U.S. approved chicken could be shipped live to China and then "processed" only to be shipped back here in packages?  I don't know for sure because the USDA's blogs appears to be insinuating that only cooked poultry will be processed but they don't say either way. 
When most of us think of "processed chicken" we think of frozen chicken nuggets or the stuff you buy at Costco in the frozen section.  In other words this stuff.
 Fried chicken nuggets, French fries and vegetables - stock photo
However, technically it appears that the USDA considers processed chicken to be live chickens turned into edible ones.  In theory this means that every chicken you eat is "processed."  Is it so terrible to want to eat real chicken thighs that haven't been shipped across the Pacific Ocean?   I think we can all agree that processing any chicken closest to home is ideal.  Even the Chinese insist upon the freshest chicken, hence all the live chicken markets there.
You know that rotten chicken I wasted my money on?  It was from California.  I don't know what happened from here to there but it wasn't good.  I have no idea how the chickens were treated.  I have no idea what they ate.  I know what state they came from but not the town and certainly not the farm.  I did get it cheap though.  Yes, I bought some really cheap rotten chicken.  What a deal right?  Mmmmmmm.  Not!
I could have taken the rotten carcass back to the store to return it.  I've done it before and guess what?  It's a nightmare.  Storing the icky chicken without contaminating your entire family is ridiculously difficult.  Then you have to find your receipt which is probably already in the garbage because who really keeps their grocery store receipts.  If it's a local store and you know all the people in the meat section you might be fine but it's still awkward. 
a butcher and his wife/assistant - stock photo
Now a local butcher.  That would be a totally different experience.  Buying chicken/poultry/beef/pork or whatever from a local butcher would be completely different for some very important reasons. 
  1. All a butcher does is work with meat.  If you buy meat there the people there will remember you.  There aren't other products that you buy that confuse the matter.
  2. A local butcher knows where they get their meat from.  They can usually tell you exactly which farm, how the chickens lived, how they were processed etc.  All your questions can be addressed.  Try getting that kind of information from the meat department of a general grocery store.  (Some of our local grocers do pretty well but a local butcher does better).
  3. The meat is a bit more is expensive but that means it's more guaranteed.  A butcher's reaction to a bad piece of meat can be described like this:  Astonishment, embarrassment, frustration, shock, etc.  This is how a good local butcher reacts.  I've returned bad meat to a grocery store.  The reaction can be described as this:  Shrugging, accusatory, passive with a possible aggressive.
    Both places will make sure you are reimbursed.  Hey, bad meat happens even to the best, but a distributors reaction says it all.
I didn't return my rotten chicken.  I didn't want to deal with the hassle of it all and I felt like I should have know better in the first place.  I had a lot of excuses for purchasing that chicken and most it them had to do with convenience.  Next time I will have answers to my questions.  I will know where my hen came from.  I will know what it ate.  I will know the farm where it came from and hopefully it only had one bad day.  Next time I will likely pay more but next time the product will be better.   

Now that I'm done with my chicken rant, I'd like to tell you some very good news about this entire situation.  Finally Bellingham has a local butcher in town!!!  I will be doing a post about what I did with that chicken soon.  All I have to say is that the chicken I made was friggin' amazing!  I felt good about buying it locally and it was from a local trustworthy source. 

So hey there Bellingham peeps.  Go check out Carne at 902 N. State Street.  Call first or go to their Facebook page to find out what they have in stock.  I cannot wait to try some different meats.  Last time I checked they had rabbit.  Rabbit!  Ooooo, that just makes me incredibly curious and excited but that's a post for another day. 

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