I love New Seasons Market in Portland. They carry affordable organic foods in the heart of the city, and their intention aligns with ours. The staff is great, friendly, and often knowledgable. We discovered them when we moved to Portland and they are our main shopping experience year-round.
Our dilemma arose in their meat department, when they changed their mainstay non-organic chickens to Draper Valley Farms.
We can’t always afford organic chickens, but we are adamant about one thing: we want the birds to be raised and dispatched humanely.
We also want them fed GMO-free feed. The latter is a goal we cannot make at this time unless we buy organic, which we can’t always afford.
When we began buying Draper Valley chickens and found that 3/4 of the legs were broken and bruised, we were surprised. Occasionally a broken leg or wing happens in all chickens, even those dispatched under the best of corcumstances, which is one ht farm buy a certified handler. Bruising tells us that the break happened while the bird was alive, not during plucking or packaging. Thigh joints, wing joints, leg joints or “ankles” — almost every chicken had at least one break. I was pretty sure that Draper Valley was not meeting our standards for humane, which also includes humane dispatching.
Also, we have been under the impression, because of New Seasons general advertising and ethics, that their chickens were meeting these requirements. So I went onto New Seasons’ website, and they state “We’re partners with Food Alliance because their strict standards are aligned with our own. Our partnership with Food Alliance guarantees that your pork and beef are raised by farmers with the highest standards for environmental stewardship, humane animal care and safe and fair working conditions.”
Argh! Chicken is not on the list! We assumed that chickens would meet these same standards. Organic is not an assumption, but when you are standing at the meat counter with the words bandied about as to “humane” and “our policy,” how many of us stop the butcher and say, “EXACTLY how is this chicken killed?”
But we did.
I tried to find out about Draper Valley through their website (woefully cheery and KFC-ish and lacking in actual information) and left a message with the person to discuss their kill practices, but so far, no return call.
I could not find anyone who wasn’t a vegan that had written about the Draper Valley slaughter houses, and the problem is, the vegans have a definite slant: Stop Eating Meat.
We have stopped eating meat. Twice, and made sure that we had a varied balanced diet. The longest time for me was two years. I found out I was allergic to soy, was always hungry, gained weight, and had arthritis problems due to diet.
After that, I looked at how my grandparents ate, and realized that proportionately, they ate a small amount of meat to veggies/fruit/and starches. My grandfather never ate two pork chops and his steak portions was in the 6oz zone with a good amount of veggies on his plate. Breakfast was his most unhealthy meal by our standard: he had two slices of bacon, two farm-fresh eggs most mornings, and lived to his 90’s, healthy.
Mitchell and I took this as a clue to healthy living, and eat meat that meets our standards and eat a smaller proportion. A chicken lasts us through at least four meals, sometimes six, and we eat 5 in a two week period. Roast chicken one night, then burritos/quiches/sandwiches, and finally, the bones go into stock.
We can’t always afford organic chickens, and apparently certified organic is the only way to know what you are buying short of meeting the farmer and going for a tour. (That is not quite true, and I will have some good local links in my next post.) Knowing we were not going vegan, we had to figure out a strategy.
BACK TO NEW SEASONS
We spoke to New Seasons’ Meat Director, Alan Hummel, to see if he could assure us there would be a change coming. He was looking into the bruising and broken bones, but so far no one else had complained. (He did not say this in a sarcastic manner, like “Lady, I don’t believe you.” He seemed sincere in his interest.) I countered that possibly other people didn’t know what that meant, or didn’t talk to him, but to the butcher on the floor, and possibly the butchers didn’t tell them what was being said. He did say that New Seasons had to find a farmer that could manage to meet the demand for 40,000 birds/week and meet their ethics, but could not. That is a lot of chickens.
Alan makes surprise visits to Draper, meaning he doesn’t just take their word that they are nice people. The problem as I see it (and this is not what Alan said) is they can’t find a way to run their store YET and meet the same humane kill standards as they apparently do with beef and pork. (By the way, on the Pork, no one knows about how Beellers dispatches. If I were you, I would stick with the New Seasons Oregon/Washington Pork.)
Draper Valley in Washington State trucks their chickens 4 hours (four hours in metal cages in poor weather, blown, loud truck and highway sounds, heat, and not happy). I wanted to know what separated them from Foster Farms, and it seems that it has to do with their living condition before slaughter (better), and the number of birds killed per week (meaning, as I see it, that they just are not big yet.)
Alan and others at New Seasons are going to follow up, and when they do, I will write a follow up. Meanwhile, the only chickens I will buy from New Seasons are Kookoolan, which are seasonal, killed onsite, and delivered once a week. Their other organic chickens are Draper Valley, same kill practices.
I regretfully had to say then we had to move on. But to where? Food Front Cooperative Grocery, of which we are members, sells Draper Valley’s Ranger chickens. Not much better, still killed in a violent death many hours from site.
No meat market I have found sells humanely dispatched chickens (or meat for that matter.)
On the Food Alliance website it states the following:
“Food Alliance Certified Products:
- Grown by a Food Alliance Certified producer
- Packed and/or prepared by a Food Alliance certified handler
- No genetically modified crops or livestock
- No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
- Healthy and humane care for livestock with no growth promotants or sub-therapeutic antibiotics
- Verified supply chain traceability”
But few chicken farmers have met their standards, and their standards don’t quite match ours.
I spoke with Food Alliance about the GMO issue, and they said that the only way to ensure non-GMO corn and soy feed is to eat organic, and organic feed is cost prohibitive at this time.
I am now finding other ways to eat sustainable, non-GMO (if possible), humanely raised and dispatched poultry. We are testing the market. More in our next installment.