A chicken’s life is better in some places than others

Contributing WriterMarch 24, 2014 

A lot of meat may taste like chicken. Almost all chickens of the world should most certainly taste like, well, chicken, but not all chickens of the world are equal when it comes to their own diet. Some chickens are better situated than others.

In Samoa, for instance, my friend Cassandra fed chickens rice from the same sack that she gets rice to cook for her family.

“By god, those are really spoiled chickens!” I said, then asked how she could feed those fowls precious rice (Samoa imports rice, and the prices are getting higher).

“That’s just how we did it,” Cassandra said. “We grabbed rice from the sack, go out in the yard and the moas (Samoan word for chickens) come running for their rice.”

I hope you loved the eggs and ate them in many ways that you relished.

“Not really. Many times we just let the hens hatch them.” Ugh, I said, then that’s more chickens to feed! Is there, by any chance, a connection between moa and the name Samoa? She just cackled my indignation away.

I told her that where I grew up, kids were told that every grain of rice that you waste means a day spent in purgatory. That statement sent her to laughter heaven.

“It’s not a waste,” she said. “The chickens eat the rice.”

In most areas of the Philippines, we feed them table scraps or they can eat whatever they can scratch out of the ground.

We also feed them palay – unhusked rice – so we do not spend any more units of energy on their feed than is necessary. I realized that Samoa has no tradition of planting rice, so it does not make sense to import palay just to feed the chickens.

Seeing the tough time I was giving Cassandra, Tina came to her rescue: “Our chickens in Ghana are treated well. We feed them rice and maize.”

Well, Ghana also imports rice and maize, but they do produce their own. Less carbon footprint, I guess.

Sallieu from Sierra Leone and Lilian from Tanzania said that they let their chickens run around the yard and fend for their own food.

Yuka from Japan said that their chickens were fed grains and leafy veggies (table scraps). Ah, those are chickens after my own heart: free-range and happy. As Yuka says, their eggs are also yellower and tastier than the store-bought ones.

Sandra, a city girl from Ecuador, does not know what people normally feed their chickens, but she did yawn out her theory: “Who knows? People are ignorant, so they probably give them ice cream.”

My friend Nanette’s kids fed their pygmy rooster, not out of ignorance, but out of love.

This was a special rooster, loved for its habit of sitting by the front window in the evenings and watching TV with the rest of its human family. It would go to sleep only after the TV was turned off for the night.

Nanette’s kids loved this rooster so much that they gave it candies. She did admit that chocolates made him drowsy, so I guess the rooster refused to peck at the chocolates during the all-important TV-watching evenings. That’s a pet rooster for you.

Pets are definitely better situated compared with other domesticated animals. If I tell my friends in developing countries that there are pet motels, dog bakeries and cat restaurants here in the United States, they’ll think it’s crazy fiction – or bizarre, considering the millions of children who are starving.

Dindo, a Filipino friend, took care of his pets really well. He fed them diligently before and after going to school; he named them and just about pampered them every which way he could. He knew well enough, though, that if and when they disappear, they will most certainly reappear – on the dinner table, as one of his favorite dishes.

Asked if the fate of his pets ever made him sad, he said, “That’s just how it was and is. Ursula the pig, Labang the goat, Brownie the dog and all our chickens – they all disappeared in the yard and reappeared on the table.

“I’ve been eating pets ever since I can remember,” he said. “Good food starts with murder.”

Isabel de la Torre of Parkland, an environmentalist and trained but non-practicing lawyer and journalist, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at tribune@isabeldelatorre.org.

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