I Like a Good Story with my Meal


Farm Notes

November just might be my favorite month and Thanksgiving my favorite holiday. It’s a time when we are thankful for all that we have, when we appreciate our friends and family just a little bit more. And we celebrate FOOD—one of the great loves in my life. Food is important to me not only because I make a living by raising it. Food—and the great care it takes in raising it—is very personal to me and my family.

Why? Food has such a profound effect on us. Have you ever noticed how certain foods and their aromas are absolutely linked to certain memories? I can’t smell tomatoes stewing on the stovetop without thinking of my mother and her mother before her, canning mountains of tomatoes. There was a great bustle in the house, the kitchen was “hotter than snot”, and there was this incredible sense of accomplishment when those jars were stacked on the basement shelves like we were expecting to feed an army.

Have you also noticed that food seems to taste better when you know more about it? That may seem like a stretch for some folks, but consider this: If I ask you to take a sip of wine, for example, but tell you ahead of time that you will detect notes of apple and vanilla, you will taste apple and vanilla. If I ask you to take a bite of cheese made from the milk of cows raised on an Alpine slope and fed lavender, you will taste a hint of lavender. I’m not a psychologist and I’m definitely not sure why this happens, but food is more than just fuel for our bodies. It’s connected to our brains, and the best foods hold great meaning for us.

The New York Times recently ran a story about a poultry company that has paired up with a number of high-end restaurants in New York City. These famous-name establishments save their kitchen scraps and ship them to the farm to be fed to the chickens. These same chickens will then be served at these swanky restaurants. The chefs were quoted as being excited about the possibilities of flavoring the meat of their future birds.

JFF chickens on pasture

JFF chickens on pasture

Now, as a chicken farmer, I’m of two minds: First, I’m duly impressed by this ingenious gimmick. It’s ingenious because it’s a great story. The chefs and their staff will describe the unique diet these chickens are getting and may even note certain herbs or vegetables that were used to sweeten the meat. Diners at these restaurants will have a story in their heads that will then inform and shape their dining experience. Whether or not these additions to the chickens’ diet have any effect on their flavor is not important*. The story is there.

On the other hand, every Midwestern bone in my body is offended by this idea. How rich is this country that we are shipping fancy restaurant kitchen scraps hundreds of miles to feed chickens? I shudder to think what poorer nations must think of us. And, more importantly, how hungry is our nation for “real” food that this story works on us? This company’s ingenious gimmick evokes images of chickens being raised in Grandma’s backyard with scraps from her table…nothing could seem more wholesome.

That’s why I am once again thankful—thankful that we are residents of the Mohawk Valley, where I can buy half a cow for my freezer from one neighbor and a pig from another. I will proudly serve Harold’s turkey, Amy’s carrots and Karen’s sweet potatoes to my loved ones this Thanksgiving. We live in an area where most everyone can stop along their commute to work at that cute little farm with the “brown eggs for sale” sign and get the best eggs on the planet. Because that cute little neighbor farm has a story—a real story—and we residents of the Mohawk Valley savor our food all the more because of it.

*The chickens from this story are a slow-growing variety, taking twice as long to grow and requiring a diet lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates (corn). As a result, their meat WILL HAVE a different flavor and the fat WILL BE more yellow in color.