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Farm Fresh Chicken Meat vs Store Bought
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Food culture in the modern world often separates us from our food. We don’t see where it comes from, how it’s produced, or even what it’s fed before it becomes food. Because of the way factory farming works, most Americans have a skewed idea of what a chicken looks like.
For example, it’s been widely documented that the size of the average chicken raised for meat is growing rapidly. The meat industry raises chickens to maximize profits. This means cutting costs wherever possible, while maximizing the amount of meat produced.
The result is supersized chickens that are often fed a mix of enriched grains and various other “stuff.” But how does the meat of a factory farm-produced chicken vary from chicken from a small poultry farm?
In this article, we’ll look critically at the differences between factory farmed chicken and pasture-raised chicken.
What Does “Farm Fresh” Even Mean?
Before we dig in, we need to define some terms. “Farm fresh” is a term widely used to describe chicken that’s raised ethically on local farms or in your neighbor’s backyard. But more specifically, we’re talking about what’s called “pasture-raised” chicken.
Pasture-raised is not an official term, like “cage-free,” or “free-range,” and this is intentional. Because the USDA standard free-range is a (some would say intentionally) misleading term. When we think of free-range chickens, we picture open fields, grass, and sun. The truth is that chickens marketed as free-range are raised in cramped quarters indoors, and fed the same feed as cage-free and caged chickens.
Pasture-raised is a term that was created to mean what it says, unlike the USDA definition of free-range. Pasture-raised chickens are chickens that live outside and supplement their diets by foraging on actual green grass, bugs, and whatever else they decide to eat. And its has been proven that these pasture-raised chickens will lay better eggs, that are more nutrient-dense and tastier.
So when we say “farm-fresh,” we’re not just talking about chicken that came from a farm. We’re talking about chicken that is farmed ethically by small-scale farms, typically in a local setting.
Which Broiler Chicken Tastes Better?
Onto the nitty gritty. Comparing farm-fresh chickens to store-bought (meaning factory farmed) chickens, the first thing you’ll notice is the size difference. If you’ve never seen a chicken that wasn’t engineered to be as big as possible, it might be surprising.
For one thing, having more meat is a plus, especially when cooking for lots of people. Store bought chickens are cheaper, and come in larger quantities, which obviously has benefits.
But raising animals for meat in a stressful environment has been shown to reduce the overall quality of the meat. And it’s a no-brainer that keeping chickens indoors or in cages and feeding them subpar food is a major cause of stress.
Comparatively, the stress-free lives of pasture-raised chickens makes for higher-quality meat, even if you get it in smaller quantities. Taste always varies person-to-person. But most folks that try store-bought and farm-fresh chicken side by side agree that farm-fresh wins.
Which meat is Healthier?
This question is a little harder to answer. The health differences between factory farmed and pasture-raised chicken hasn’t been investigated much by researchers.
However, research has shown pretty extensively that grass-fed beef contains more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids than grain-fed beef. It’s hard to say for certain if chicken works the same way. But chances are, chicken raised on open pasture and allowed to forage on real food is healthier than chicken fed a highly processed blend of grains.
What’s more interesting than that, though, is the interaction of antibiotics and food. When chickens are kept in a factory farm, they’re often in highly unsanitary, cramped conditions. And as you can imagine, this often leads to bacterial infections.
The solution, according to the factory farming method, is to pump the chickens full of antibiotics, which they receive in their food. This keeps the chickens healthy enough to grow to harvesting size.
However, it could have a serious impact on human health. Research has shown that antibiotics found in animal feeds can be stored in the animal’s tissues. Then, when a human consumes the meat, low grades of these antibiotics can be passed on to the person’s system. After enough time, this low grade of antibiotic consumed through meat can make a person resistant to antibiotics.
This may not seem like a big deal at first. But the CDC calls widespread antibiotic resistance “one of the world’s most urgent health problems.” And it could, in the long term, allow for devastating diseases like staph and MRSA to infect large numbers of people.
The best thing about small poultry farms is just that. They produce fewer birds, meaning each bird has more space and cleaner conditions. Which means no antibiotics, which means a healthy future for everybody.