Why so much camouflage? Peel off the crispy coating, skip the dip, and the naked chicken is pretty flavor-free—and it isn’t an accident.
Back in the late 1940s, the country’s largest supermarket chain worked with the USDA and sponsored “Chicken of Tomorrow,” a contest among farmers to breed the fastest-growing, biggest chickens. By the 1950s, industrial production was up and running, and today’s broiler chickens typically have a lifespan of about 40 days, instead of 16 weeks, and grow to about double the weight of their 1950s forebears.
“Their skeletal and circulatory systems simply can’t support the muscle mass,” says Jesse Solomon, founder of Emmer & Co., which produces pasture-raised, slow-growing chickens. These and other slow-growth varieties have longer, stronger legs, smaller breasts, and are friskier and leaner than today’s industrial birds, which have joint and other problems and can’t move around much.
The Slow-Growth Trend
Although the slow-growth movement is still mostly in its infancy, this is the next frontier of healthier, more humanely raised, more flavorful chicken. Emmer is among a small group of pioneering farms, but some of the largest chicken producers are working out ways to go slow-growth, and there’s rising demand among restaurants and stores.
If healthy, flavorful birds appeal to you, look for heirloom or heritage varieties. Or simply ask for slow-growth chicken. To learn more, visit Emmer & Co. (emmerandco.com) or The Livestock Conservancy (livestockconservancy.org).