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unexpected encounter with live chicken

March 29, 2010

Several times since the weather has gotten warmer, I’ve walked past a small shop on Chicago Avenue advertising “Organic Amish Chickens.”  The storefront is modest, a little worn down and fairly plain-looking, with only a small sign advertising its goods.  I hadn’t had a chance to stop in until yesterday afternoon, when plans for a Sunday night dinner of a whole roasted chicken began to form.  Upon entering, I was rather disappointed to see nothing up front except a few dozen chicken legs and thighs in a refrigerated case, boxes of eggs, and a selection of canned beans on a shelf to the side.  There were two or three gentleman behind the counter and a couple more waiting in line, and an Arabic television station softly spreading the news.  Glancing at the parts in the cold case, and noticing a strong, unpleasant odor not unlike the barn of a friend’s farm just after feeding the donkys, I was curious: “Do you have any whole chickens?”

“Of course we do,” responded a mustachioed man standing tall in a white apron.  He pointed behind his shoulder, where I saw through a door into the back room several scores of whole chickens.  Whole, and entirely alive, in a coop, clucking away.

When I had seen the sign advertising organic chickens – chickens raised by iPod and iMac-free Amish families, at that – in the weeks prior, it never occurred to me that this storefront would sell anything but chickens slaughtered where they were raised.  But such is not the case at Alliance Poultry Farms and to my great surprise, right here in the city of Chicago, former home of the historically unsanitary union stockyards that provided Upton Sinclair the setting for his novel The Jungle (which incited President Teddy Roosevelt to form the FDA), you can purchase a live chicken and have it slaughtered, de-feathered, and cleaned, ready to cook for dinner.

“What size do you want?” the shopkeeper asked, to which I suggested a chicken of 4 pounds.  He walked into the backroom, opened the coop, grabbed a chicken by the feathers and place it into a small bucket on top of a digital scale.

“It will be $8.50,” he explained, and then took his right index finger and sliced it across his neck, asking via sign language if I wanted the bird to be slaughtered.  I nodded – I’ve got nowhere in my apartment to keep a live chicken.

“Do you want the head and the feet?”

“Uh, I don’t think so.”

He took the chicken and passed it through a small window to the butcher in back.  I stood and waited, noticing again the putrid smell and the sawdust that covered the ground; several people came and went.  At one point, a man ordered two chickens (alive, carry-out), and when the shopkeeper placed them in the bucket to weigh, one of the chickens jumped out, trying to fly but to little avail – its wings were clipped.  I was entirely unsure what would be handed to me when the butcher came out front again, and was prepared to pay for (and immediately dispose of) a dead chicken, headless, feet-less but with feathers still attached.

Alas, the bird arrived – featherless, clean, and chopped into breasts and legs instead of whole.  I paid and grabbed the sack containing the chicken off the counter.  I noticed right away its weight; I’ve held a whole chicken countless times, but never one that I had seen alive just moments before.  It didn’t feel like I was holding a package of chicken – the weight felt dead, like the carcass that it was.

I brought the chicken home and cleaned it further, dressed it in salt, pepper, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil, and baked it for an hour over a bed of rice.  As you can imagine (if you’re not yet turned off by the manner in which this particular dinner was sourced), it was delicious.

No. 281: 3/28/2010

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

– T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Nos. 282: 3/27/2010

Opportunities may come along for you to convert something –
something that exists into something that didn’t yet.  That might
be the beginning of it.  Sometimes you just want to do things
your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty

– Bob Dylan, Chronicles

No. 283: 3/26/2010

No. 284: 3/25/2010

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2010 6:06 pm

    This completely caught me off guard and I can only imagine how you must of felt experiencing it! It’s funny and horrifying and overall a great story to tell…so glad you shared it.

  2. March 31, 2010 8:57 am

    Ha. Great story, Adam. Brave man to get your chicken like that. I think I’ll stick to the local grocery.

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