Why I Don’t Eat Chicken

Gigantorby Guest Columnist Ruby Vee

I don’t like chicken — at least, not if it tastes like chicken.

Cover it with breading and deep fry it, I can maybe tolerate it — if it’s absolutely fresh. Chicken tikka masala doesn’t really taste like chicken, so I can deal with it — usually. But really, I don’t like chicken. People think I’m batty to not like chicken — what is there not to like? You’re not a VEGETARIAN, are you? No, I’m not nuts and I’m not a vegetarian. I like red meat and pork – I just don’t like chicken.

When I was ten or eleven, we moved to my great-grandfather’s farm. Mom, Dad, my sister and me. My sister and me weren’t especially thrilled about our upcoming move to the country, away from our friends with no popsicle stand just down the street, and Mom was doing her best to make it seem like an attractive prospect. One of the stories she told us was about Grandma’s egg money. It seems that Grandma kept chickens on the farm, and sold the eggs.

Whenever she wanted something that Granddad didn’t want to pay for, she brought out the “egg money” and paid for it herself. Mom’s first prom dress — egg money. Uncle Junior’s trombone for the marching band — egg money. In an effort to deal with the whining about why we had to move to the country (and in with my Great grandfather, who scared me silly), Mom promised Rose and me that we could raise our own chickens and sell the eggs for our very own egg money. We could hardly wait.

Did you know that you can mail order baby chicks? We didn’t, until we moved to the farm. Rose and I claimed a dilapidated shed for our “chicken coop”, bought a warming light and ordered 50 baby chicks. They sent 54. Thanks to our tender loving care, only two of the chicks died. Rose and I were devastated by each death, but determined to raise the rest of the chicks to be healthy, productive layers. None of us — except possibly my mother — had known that when you order baby chicks, you need to specify all females if what you want is all hens.

So we didn’t specify. And what we got was a fairly even mix of male and female chickens. Nor did we realize that roosters don’t just crow at dawn — they crow any darned time they feel like it, day or night. They seem especially fond of crowing about 3 AM — or maybe it’s just that you notice it more when it jolts you from a sound sleep. Twenty-six (or thereabouts) growing roosters crowing all night long didn’t make for family harmony, and we still weren’t getting any eggs to sell. When the hens did start to lay, they were tiny, deformed eggs that my mother called “pullet eggs.” Not fit for selling, and it took two or three of them to make up for one decent sized egg. Moreover, the hens didn’t lay the eggs in the nests Rose and I had painstakingly built for them in their chicken coop.

They laid eggs anywhere they felt like it. Under the cows in the barn where they’d get stepped on, on top of the hay bales in the hay mow where they attracted snakes who wanted to eat the eggs, or on the tractor seat. The smell of an egg that has been overlooked for a week is overwhelming; the smell when you inadvertently SIT on it is something else again. (Dad was not happy.) The chickens were becoming a nuisance.

Rose and I had to get up early every day to bring them feed and water and to clean out the chicken coop, and every day after school we had to hunt for the eggs. Any that Dad found before we did were likely to set him off. (He sat on more than one egg.) The roosters crowed all night, and they were learning to fly. That meant that sometimes the eggs were in the barn rafters out of our reach. And sometimes they didn’t STAY in the rafters. It seems that it was always my father who got bombed with the rotten eggs. And still the eggs weren’t big enough to sell.

It was after Dad’s class reunion in June that the chickens had to go. I had never seen my father drunk, and mother assured us that when he came home from his class reunion vomiting all over the place and couldn’t make it up the stairs to bed without help, it was because he “had a touch of the flu.” We were kids. We bought it. Dad was asleep with the windows open to catch the breeze, when a rooster flew up into the window and sat on the sill to crow. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like, with the granddaddy of all hangovers, to have a rooster crowing right next to your bed.

Dad picked up a shoe off the floor and pitched it at the rooster, who flew off squawking indignantly. But a few minutes later, another rooster — or maybe it was the same one — flew up into the window to crow again. Dad pitched the other shoe at him. The third time a rooster flew up into the bedroom window to crow, Dad was out of missiles to pitch at him. He was also out of patience. He reached over into his bedside table, pulled out his .357 revolver, and blew its head off.

My mother, lying next to him was nearly deafened by the blast and my sister and I were both wide awake now — wakened either by the shot or by my mother’s screaming. Another rooster flew up into the window, and Dad shot that one, too. By the time my sister and I could get out of bed and down the stairs, my father was outside in the yard, blowing the heads off 52 chickens as fast as he could reload. By this time, he wasn’t discriminating between hens and roosters, he just shot them all.

Chickens really DO run around with their heads cut off — or in this case, blown off. Then run back and forth and do back flips and somersaults until they finally run out of steam and lay down and die. Imagine several chickens running around headless and bleeding, while Dad continued to shoot more of them. chickens are stupid — they didn’t try to run and hide. They were all out in the open where Dad could shoot them. And shoot them he did. Fifty two dead chickens, fifty three shots. (Dad was a marksman, even with a hangover.) Mother was always a practical woman, and didn’t believe in wasting anything.

She was on the phone at 6 AM, calling my grandmother and great aunt. We got to skip church that Sunday morning — in favor of butchering 52 chickens. We had a regular assembly line. Mom, Grandma and Aunt Ethel had all grown up on farms and butchered their own chickens on Sunday mornings for Sunday dinner. But 52 of them at one time is still a lot.Dad and Rose got out of the butchering but my job was to scald the chickens to loosen their feathers and then to pluck them. I didn’t know how to butcher, so Mom, Grandma and Aunt Ethel took turns helping me with the scalding and plucking while the others butchered, cut up and packaged the chickens for the freezer.

If you’ve ever smelled a scalded chicken, you will never forget the smell. And if you’ve ever tasted chicken that has sat in the refrigerator for too long without being consumed, the taste is reminiscent of the smell of scalded chicken. And that’s why I don’t like chicken. Mom gave some of the chickens to Grandma and Aunt Ethel, but we ate chicken almost every Sunday for a year. (Except for when Dad shot the grey gander and we ate goose for dinner, but that’s another story.) Even when we went to Grandma’s or Aunt Ethel’s houses for Sunday dinner, they’d pull one of those damned chickens out of the freezer to serve. So that is why I don’t eat chicken that looks like or tastes like chicken. If it’s smothered in sauce, I can eat it. Sometimes.

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