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Which Chicken to Buy, Free Range, Organic or

Updated on November 11, 2015

Which Came First

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well according to the iconoclastic author Samuel Butler, the chicken is just an egg’s way of making another egg. There is a certain kind of logic to that thought, another Butler quote “A drunkard would not give money to sober people. He said they would only eat it, and buy clothes and send their children to school with it.” Well, enough of Butler and funny quotes. I think the only reasonable answer is that the chicken and the egg have to exist together, neither one could exist without the other.

Chickens: (Gallus Domesticus) According to recent evidence the practice of domesticating chickens goes back 10 thousand years in Viet Nam and Thailand, this rivals the early records of domesticated sheep and goats in archaeological records. Chickens were first bred and domesticated from Red Jungle Fowl: (Gallus Gallus) native to Southeast Asia. Chickens, pigs and dogs were all first domesticated in the Lapita culture of Oceania. It is likely (but uncertain) that chickens were first domesticated for their eggs. Chickens belong to a group of birds that will keep laying eggs until they accumulate a certain number, this group of eggs is called a clutch, when the farmer removes some eggs the hen will lay more.

Gallus Gallus, wild chickens in India
Gallus Gallus, wild chickens in India | Source


The Romans used eggs regularly and Apicius left us written  recipes for a kind of omelet, also a kind of a savory custard as well as instructions for how to fry, boil and soft cook eggs. The Greeks and other ancients thought that cocks were a worthy sacrifice to their gods. As Socrates was dying he is supposed to have said “We owe a cock to Asclepius” The Egyptians were just as familiar with chickens, with records going all the way back to the 18th Dynasty as the “bird that lays every day”. The 18th Dynasty was from 1550 B.C. through 1292 B.C. and this also includes the time of Tutankhamen. Aristotle and Pliny both reported that the Egyptians hatched eggs by using the heat in decomposing dung to incubate the eggs. Chickens also have a history that has nothing to do with the table. Cockfighting has been recorded in India as early as 500 B.C. and the “sport” spread around the ancient world. Chickens lent their names to language in many ways, cocky, cockpit, chicken, coquette to name a few.

Factory Farms, Intensive Farming

Organic Chicken Farming

What is the Best Chicken to Buy?

Intensive Poultry Farming, Most of the chicken we see in the market is raised using intensive farming practices. Worldwide over 50 billion chickens are produced for food each year. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world's poultry meat, and 68 percent of eggs are produced this way. Intensive systems of raising chickens produce cheap meat for the consumer. Inside the factory farm chicken houses up to 40,000 birds are crammed, at 2 birds to the square foot, with low levels of artificial light, on almost constantly. They are fed large amounts of antibiotics and drugs to keep them alive in conditions that would otherwise kill them. The antibiotics make chickens grow so large, so fast that they often become crippled under their own weight. Good for the farmers profits, uncertain how good it is for us, if we are ingesting those antibiotics we are helping develop drug resistant bacteria in our own systems. The use of hormones to promote the growth of chickens is illegal in the U.S. but the chickens are getting huge because of the antibiotics being used.

How About a Serving of Arsenic?

One of the controversial drugs that is prevalent in the industry is Roxarsone, this drug contains arsenic, highly toxic to humans but the FDA has not found harmful levels of arsenic in chicken meat. (unless this is another place where industry controls government rather than the government regulating business, you decide.) The Consumer Reports magazine did detect arsenic in a small numberof samples of chicken livers but the FDA did not and the FDA is in charge.

According to a 2011 industry estimate about 9 out of 10 broiler chickens in the United States had been fed arsenic. That luscious pink color in the raw chicken in your fridge? That is the result of ruptured blood vessels caused by feeding the birds arsenic, however the FDA claims that the levels of arsenic are too low to cause any problems to the people who eat them. "A pair of new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic.": (NYT). "According to Dr. Michael Greger, MD, the NIH, and the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, there are "alarmingly high levels of arsenic contamination in the flesh of broiler chickens," exceeding the EPA upper limit for arsenic in water by 6 - 9 times." :(Natural News). What are we eating in this country? Certainly, the chickens we raise for food should be treated humanely, but Benadryl!? Benadryl is used commonly to treat insomnia, sneezing and runny nose due to the common cold, allergy symptoms and others. Well, maybe our poultry is having trouble sleeping or they all have colds, that would help explain why they are being fed acetaminophen. Of course if we are feeding them caffeine maybe the Benadryl is needed so they can sleep. There is no doubt that if you speak to a chicken farmer he/she will be able to give you reasonable explanations and reasons for using these chemicals. As for we consumers, we just keep quiet and eat anything that is cheap. Stop by a Chic-fil-A on your way home and enjoy a sandwich of chemicals and chicken.

Take a peek into a factory chicken farm

Albertus Verhoesen: Chickens and a park vase
Albertus Verhoesen: Chickens and a park vase | Source

Headless chicken

The headless chicken has been promoted as a more humane way to raise chickens for food. Prepare for the Zombie Chicken apocalypse
The headless chicken has been promoted as a more humane way to raise chickens for food. Prepare for the Zombie Chicken apocalypse | Source

So, What to Buy?

Free Range There are two alternatives to intensive farming techniques; the first is free range farming. For someone concerned about the ethics of animals being raised for food, free range is much better for the chicken, free range chickens are allowed to forage for their food in a natural way in a pasture; the birds are under less stress and live in cleaner conditions than intensively raised birds. While this is better for the chickens there are no other differences in production practices, they may still use antibiotics in raising these free range birds. USDA standards require that producers of "free-range" chicken "demonstrate that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside" during raising. Unfortunately, there are no standards controlling when access is allowed or how large an area the chicken has access to.

Organic. This is as good as chicken gets. Organic chickens are always free range IF THEY ARE LABELED: USDA Certified Organic. Antibiotic growth promoters cannot be used by organic farmers so sick organic birds must be treated with appropriate veterinary medicine. They may be given antibiotics if they’re very ill, but they cannot be given drugs on a regular and routine basis. Organic poultry is reared on a specially formulated feed containing only cereals, vegetable protein, a small amount of fish meal, and a vitamin/mineral supplement. To be certified as fully organic, chickens must be fed a diet containing grain which has been grown organically, without artificial fertilizers or sprays. Such feed is expensive, and therefore organic chicken is more expensive. The most ethical organic farmers will use feed which is also guaranteed to be free from genetically modified feedstuffs (GMOs). Once you taste an organically raised chicken you may find it difficult to switch back. We’ve all heard our parents say how things don’t have as much flavor that they did when they were young. If you are a disbeliever all you need to do is try a organic chicken, the flavor stands out, is deeper and more complex and it tastes the way chicken used to taste. This link is to a downloadable PDF file: Raising Organic Chickens, Salmonella , and the Issues of Outdoor Access

Zombie Chickens?? I wish this were a bad taste joke (and I have not yet researched the truth of this claim) but Philosopher Paul Thompson from Purdue University has suggested “The Blind Chicken Solution” as a means of relieving the stress felt by the chickens which are currently raised under deplorable conditions. “The headless chicken solution”, is a technologically elaborate set-up in which brainless chickens would grow like tomato plants in vertical containers. The feet and part of the brain of the chicken would be removed so the chicken would feel no pain and couldn’t scurry around like chickens without their heads, then they would be strapped into a vertical system that feeds them, stimulates their muscles and removes excrement. Perhaps this is just a move to promote veganism but more can be read here:

This is how we treat our food

Fecal Soup in Chicken Products

The video below comes from Poultry Slaughter Procedures, a USDA training video recently obtained by the Physicians Committeethrough the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that the chicken slaughtering process ends with carcasses soaking in cold water—“fecal soup”—for up to one hour before being packaged for consumers.

It remains to be seen if plant workers who are powerless to speak out against their employers will be able to protect our food supply from the demands of profit.

Would you stop a work line if it meant possibly losing your job? Consumer beware and cook your chicken to 165 or above.

Fecal Soup in Chicken Products

Chicken Paella


Food Safety, Grading and Inspections

USDA: “Chicken Inspection
All chickens found in retail stores are either inspected by USDA or by state systems which have standards equivalent to the Federal government. Each chicken and its internal organs are inspected for signs of disease. The "Inspected for wholesomeness by the U.S. Department of Agriculture" seal insures the chicken is free from visible signs of disease.”

USDA: “Chicken Grading
Inspection is mandatory but grading is voluntary. Chickens are graded according to USDA Agricultural Marketing Service regulations and standards for meatiness, appearance and freedom from defects. Grade A chickens have plump, meaty bodies and clean skin, free of bruises”

Food Safety
Chicken is mass produced and a major source of Salmonella and food poisoning, always cook chicken to at least 165 degrees. Even at this temperature you may find blood around the bones, in that case cook to 185 degrees. Use an Instant Read Thermometer to check temperatures.

HIMP and the USDA

Since 1998 the USDA has been running a pilot project called the HACCP-based Inspection Model Project (HIMP). HIMP plants slaughter young chickens as well as turkey and hogs. In the chicken plants, line speeds have been permitted to run faster than other poultry slaughter plants. In HIMP plants, USDA inspectors have been replaced with company employees who perform food safety inspections. Presently, there are 20 young chicken plants, five market hog plants, and two young turkey plants participating.
Groups opposed to HIMP include the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Food & Water Watch, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)



A Recipe, Easy and Delicious

Chicken Madeira with Artichoke and Grapes

Very rich, delicious and easy to make, wonderful served tossed with fettuccini like Alfredo or with wild rice, this is good enough for company but you won’t be tied up in the kitchen.

Ingredients for 1 serving

· 1 Boneless skinless chicken breast

· Pinch Salt and pepper

· ¼ Cup All purpose flour

· 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil (Or Butter)

· 2 Pieces Hearts or Bottoms of Artichokes, Drained and sliced ¼” thick

· ¼ Cup Madeira wine, or Marsala or Sauterne or Your favorite

· ½ Cup Heavy Cream

· To Taste Salt and Pepper

· 1/3 Cup Seedless Red Grapes, Sliced in half (white work as well but red look nicer).


· Pound the chicken breasts thin, or if you are going to use this over pasta cut chicken into thin strips

· Mix the salt, pepper and flour and dredge the chicken, shake off any excess

· Heat the oil in a sauté pan on medium high heat

· Place chicken in the pan and sauté till brown on both sides, remove the chicken and set aside.

· Lower the heat to medium

· Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom and sides to pick up all of the flavors.

· Add the Cream and whisk to blend well.

· When the sauce starts to boil reduce the heat again

· Simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon

· Taste and adjust the seasoning adding salt and pepper as needed.

· Put the artichokes, grapes and chicken in the simmering sauce.

· Bring back to a simmer, stir well and serve.

Find other sauces for your chicken here  
Tips and instructions on roasting are here
Spices and Herbs to use here


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hi Jillian, you are true to my heart, a long time ago we used to cook carrots with grapes and celery, actually simmered them in far too much butter for today's diets but delish and forgotten until you just reminded me. Thanx! I switched to organic only a few months ago and up til then I thought free range was better

    • Jillian Barclay profile image

      Donna Lichtenfels 

      8 years ago from California, USA

      Dear Chef,

      Another incredible article! Your research is always top-notch! I don't buy too many cookbooks, but let me tell you, if you write one that has all of the research, as well as some recipes, I will be in line, copy in hand, at your book signing.

      I also love organic chickens. They are so juicy and tender! At first I thought it was that I had just lucked out and cooked it exactly right, but then realized it was not my accidental cooking skill; it was the chicken.

      Right now, money is a factor, so I don't have the luxury of choice, but try to stick with brands that have a good reputation. I won't be buying chicken livers anymore, though.

      Your recipe is going to be followed to the letter! I love grapes used in cooking!

      One of my favorite ways to use grapes is with carrots, sauteed in some butter and brown sugar. Simple, but wonderful!

      Thank you, Chef!

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hi Leisurelife

      I did quite a bit of research doing this article and never found any poultry farmer that disputed the practices as listed. You would think the USDA would have better regulations instead of allowing us to torture animals before we eat them.

      I buy organic chickens whenever I can and the flavor is far superior.

      Unfortunately business and customers demand cheap prices so demand is not likely to change.

      Thanx for reading


    • LeisureLife profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Very informative article. If this information is correct, the conditions that those animals are forced to live in are terrible. Something should be done about this.


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