It began with a simple chicken recipe trotting around my head at 5:30 am. Part out the chicken leaving the skin on. Sauté some onions, carrots, and celery and toss into a crock pot. Then add a cup of uncooked brown rice, then the chicken and top with sage, garlic, and a couple drops of smoke flavor. Oops, forgot the salt. Finish with 2c of homemade chicken stock. Set crock on low for the morning and turn up to high later.
An absurdly simple recipe, perhaps even ho-hum. But my intention was to feature the bird. Once again you might say, “boring,” and in most circumstances I would agree. Chicken is most often a conveyer of some favorite sauce, barbeque, or perhaps teriyaki. Modern chicken is rather tasteless, not to mention being loaded with antibiotics and stress hormones. On an energetic level, I find the average chicken to be rather blank, as if the flesh I was about to consume had never been inhabited at all.
But this bird was not your average broiler, raised in confinement and de-beaked. This chicken lived in a pasture eating bugs and having room to spread her wings. She and her compatriots followed a herd of cattle, breaking up the manure in search of worm larvae, in a cycle mirrored in wild herds of ruminants. Both her manure and the steer’s fed the soil, making more healthy grass for next years cows. At night she climbed up a ramp to her portable roost where she would be safe from foxes and coyotes and settled down with her flock to sleep. When it was time for her life to end, it was done with care and respect for her being.
To eat this chicken is to take into myself not just food, but true nourishment. It places me firmly within the cycle of life and death. Her death will feed my life, and someday, my death will enrich the soil (Get thee hence, thou evil embalmers!) In her living, she got to be exactly what she was, and not a being cramped into a sick sad life where she did not get to express her chickenness. When I offer thanks, I get the impression of contentment and satisfaction.
But all the spiritual peace and satisfaction in the world would not matter if Ms Cluck were not tasty. And by the gods, she most certainly was. Having baked one of these birds earlier in the week, I found myself uncharacteristically craving chicken salad sandwiches. I was motivated to cook on what is usually a ‘left-over’ day. Weird.
Paganism is not a religion of austerity and self-deprivation. But this should not mean that we over-indulge, or eat thoughtlessly what we were raised with simply because it is familiar. If we seek to live a spiritual existence on a daily basis, then what we eat matters.