Supermarket chicken comes in many forms: legs, thighs, wings. With skin. Without. With bones. Without.
But that’s just the beginning. How are you to parse what kind of chicken you should buy when the categories get even finer? “No added hormones.” Vegetarian feed.” “Organic vegetarian feed.” “Free range.”
What do all these designations mean? Does it make the chicken worth more in the end? Eh, not so much.
Here are a few labels that aren’t worth the air between a chicken’s bones:
1. “No added hormones,” “hormone free,” “no added growth hormones”: All of the above terms are not worth an extra penny when you’re buying a chicken, or parts of said chicken.They sound nice, and virtuous. And they are. It’s such a good idea that in the U.S., it’s in fact illegal to sell chicken that has hormones added.That means that all of the chicken — at any store — presuming the farmers are following U.S. law — will be guaranteed hormone-free. How much extra is this label worth? Zero dollars.If you look carefully, you’ll see the required footnote to these hormone claims: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
2. “Vegetarian feed,” “organic vegetarian feed”: Oh, chickens that are vegetarians! That’s a nice thought, since we don’t like the idea of chickens being fed large slabs of meat. But why would these chickens have to be specifically designated as vegetarians?Isn’t that a given? Apparently, no, it isn’t, and chickens themselves are victims of the grass-fed, grain-fed beef craze. Happy, normal chickens like their protein, and do eat insects, worms and any other tiny critters they can get their beaks on.It seems that vegetarian feed is imposing an ethical mandate on chickens, and it’s even causing a nutritional deficiency in the birds. They have no philosophical objection to scarfing down a slug, but it seems we do object to that.And that’s not good for the chickens. (Yes, the meat-craving, but otherwise normal, happy well-adjusted chickens.)
3. 100% natural: On chicken, this phrase is almost 100 percent spin. “Natural” according to the FDA, means there has been minimal processing and the meat has no artificial color additives or flavors. Since most commercially available chicken falls into this category, this term is close to meaningless. Don’t pay extra for this, unless you truly enjoy paying more just because.And remember, there’s nothing natural about a chicken raised as a vegetarian. Even if it’s a 100 percent natural vegetarian chicken that looks like it really, really enjoys eating that broccoli.
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