Archive for December, 2010

Food, Un-Incorporated

Monday, December 20th, 2010 | animals, family, food | 1 Comment

Sy uses the two armed technique for rounding up chickens, ready to push them either way. Note Ellringer tongue sticking out.

I often tell people having chickens is a wonderful thing for our family. When I say that, I’m mostly thinking of Sy, our six year old son. Sy has a lot of energy. Sometimes it gets out of hand, of course. The chickens provide him with a wide array of activities to focus his energy on things that are not only fun, but also contribute in meaningful ways to our family operations. He has lately taken on the task of grinding grain, for instance. Let me step back a minute, first.

A few weeks ago, I wanted to share the film “Food, Inc.” with the kids. Jen was worried it might be “too much”. My response is that if they can hear about killing & war, play with guns, and otherwise be exposed to violence in all sorts of venues, they have a right, and we a responsibility, to share with them some reality of our food system. Let me say now that I am not only proud of my kids for sticking it out and watching the whole movie, but I’m also proud of our parenting and values we have instilled in the kids thus far.

Sy is more than happy to help crack open the pumpkin so the chickens can eat the super nutritious seeds and peck at the meat.

Our kids have seen a lot of local food being produced. I took them to a slaughterhouse. They have worked on CSA farms. They have seen my Uncle’s dairy operation. They know how the food we eat (mostly, we’re not perfect. Surprise!) is produced. They were also pretty naive as to how the “real” world eats, and how “their” food is produced. Enter the film. The most memorable scene in the movie in this context was the chick factory. In this factory, eggs are hatched by the thousands, and cute little chicks are guided on conveyer belts and pushed through the factory at alarming rates.

It is at this point that Olive burst into tears, “they aren’t hurting them, are they?” Me: “What do you think, Olive?” Her, sadly: “Yes.”

Sy asked, in his sweet little voice, “Are they killing them?”  Me, “Not yet. That comes later.”

Seeing Olive’s reaction made me want to turn it off and protect her from the images, and simultaneously want to keep it going even more. Paradox. Protect them from reality, or expose them to it? I let it run. The scenes of the chicken farm, where thousands of chickens are crammed in brought tears to all of our eyes. We know chickens are amazing creatures – curious, funny, loving. To see the chickens forced together in unhealthy conditions, being kicked around, was horrid. “Those people are mean!” Sy exclaimed. “I want to kill them!” WHOA there nelly.

Since we’ve been raising chickens ourselves, Olive has refused to eat chicken. I love her natural and practical way of living her values. Of course I tease her once in awhile “You know that is dead cow, right? How is that different from chicken?” Yes, I’m a jerk to my kids too. Sy, on the other hand, relishes chicken, and even asked one night, “are we eating Pearl?” (Pearl was our most cherished rooster, still miss her/him) He understands where the chicken comes from, and I think he eats it intentionally, respectfully.

So the other day, we’re grinding grain. I need to help Sy because we have a crazy dangerous grain grinder that could easily hurt or maim. So I’m telling Sy Grandpa’s suggested recipe, two cups of corn, one oat, one wheat. “I thought chickens weren’t supposed to eat corn” says Sy. Aha, he was watching the movie! “You’re right. We don’t have enough greens and compost for them right now, so we’re supplementing with grains.” I answered, with guilt, because I, too would like to change our feeding regime but am too lazy or otherwise preoccupied to make the changes necessary. He continues scooping, but instead of two corn, he only puts a little in, then mostly oats and wheat. “Grandpa said two corn, Sy.” I mention to him. He turns to me, enraged! He throws the cup at me and screams “DO YOU WANT TO KILL THE CHICKENS! Too much corn will kill them!” and he stomps off.

That was not the kind of reaction I had in mind when I showed them the film. I am quite pleased, though, because it confirmed to me that our children can learn, can change, and will adapt to our changing environment. And now I am more committed to finding other sources of food for the chickens. It is coming slowly. This week my dad and I started some wheatgrass for them, so instead of just feeding them the grain, we’re taking the extra step to soak, sprout and grow a little green grass from the seeds. I hope the eggs taste better, and that Sy knows he’s helped make our world a little better.