Georgians for Pastured Poultry—a collective of farmers, chefs, environmentalist and animal rights groups, and concerned individuals launched this year—has named this Pastured Poultry Week. Judging by the rate of participation by popular area chefs, this fledgling organization is demonstrating both its influence and the growing public demand for its namesake product.
Through Sunday, you can try pastured chicken—that’s a bird raised with full access to the outdoors—at more than two dozen restaurants in metro Atlanta and beyond, including Restaurant Eugene, Miller Union, JCT. Kitchen, The National, Leon’s Full Service, Holy Taco, Five Season Brewing … the full list is here. And this Saturday, you can catch a pastured-bird-related chef’s demo at Decatur Farmers Market (Billy Allin with Darby Farms chicken at 9:30 a.m.), Morningside Farmers Market (Shaun Doty with Little Red Hen Farm chicken at 9:30 a.m.), and Peachtree Road Farmers Market (Zeb Stevenson with Heritage Farm chicken at 10 a.m.).
Of course, the growing culinary interest in pastured poultry is intertwined with the complex issue of independent poultry processing in this state. Farmers won’t raise free-range birds if people don’t want to buy them. And they won’t be able to meet demand if they don’t have legal, financially feasible ways to process them.
Underpinning it all is the very simple issue of compassion. Pasture-raised chickens taste like real chicken because they are real chicken. They live twice as long (to allow them to grow at their natural rates, on natural food) as factory-farmed birds, in conditions they're designed for—not crammed feather-to-feather with thousands of other birds, indoors, in a perpetually lighted space, standing amid their own feces, for a brief and utterly miserable existence. If market demand (and a few regulatory clarifications) could enable a few independent poultry slaughter facilities to thrive around the state, then the birds’ deaths would be more pleasant too. Currently, most pastured birds raised in Georgia must be trucked live (in cages, after living cage-free) long distances to processing facilities out of state, and then the meat is hauled back to Georgia, frozen. Its stressful to the animals, wasteful of fuel, expensive for farmers, and compromising to the quality of the meat.
So what can the average person do? Easy: Go vegetarian. Or, if you eat meat and care about the quality of the life the animal led, the resources used to raise it, and/or the authenticity of its taste, then you should give pastured poultry a try. As demand grows, and production becomes less complicated, the prices will drop.