A few months ago, I went to the local higher-priced grocery store to pick up some chicken. This particular trip to the store however, I got more than I expected: the chicken came free with a side order of attitude and the ever popular “shoulda’-said” chaser.
Here’s the scene: a local favorite shi shi fru fru store in Southeast Portland. The fluorescent light flickers slightly above a stainless, freshly hosed down meat slicer. The smell of fresh salmon and dill permeates the air like the aroma of a wet dog, only fishier and more dill-like. The butcher stands behind the counter, seemingly annoyed by my perplexed-but-friendly stare into the 8-foot glass case, his fingers twitching in preparation for the imminent smoke break or opportunity to slash something, I can’t be sure. (I swear there is a light saber somewhere in this story.)
Me. Played by a young and dashing Harrison Ford, circa 1982, as Rick Deckard, a.k.a. Blade Runner
Butcher. Played by Ian McDiarmid, a.k.a. Emperor Palpatine, visibly annoyed and very possibly, ready to Rock
The song, “My girl likes to party all the time, party all the time, party all the tii-iiime” is on the overhead.
“Excuse me - do you have organic free range chicken?” I asked, politely.
“We have all natural chicken, if that’s what you mean.”
“No, I mean free range - do you have that?” I replied, again with nothing but a cheery, please-like-me-Mr.-Butcher-man-with-the-long-knives-and-a-disconcerting-familiar smile.
“You mean like did it run around a yard and peck at stuff before they killed it? I don’t know, I wasn’t there.”The butcher had that restrained, “I want to punch you in the face” look that the librarian in Junior High School had when she wanted to scream but couldn’t because, well, we do have rules against that.
Now let me pause for a moment and say that this was one of those moments in life where I thought of all kinds of witty, cutting things to say to this guy -an hour too late.
“Are you really giving me crap about this?”, or, “Is it worth risking your job to deal with your customers like that?”. And then there’s the old stand-by: “What’s your name? I’d like to talk to the manager pronto, Pal-O-Mine!” Or maybe, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the Truth!” (not sure how that last one applies, but it comes into my mind whenever I’m angry.)
But what was my reaction?
“Uh, OK. Thanks anyway.” BecauseTHAT, unfortunately, is how I roll.
Yes folks, I , am, SPARTICUS.
[Ed. note: I can’t help but think that by posting this admission, I just got called a bunch of immature, denigrating names that are often hurled at an umpire at a sporting event, that in some parts of the world imply awful things about the denigratee’s mother.
I think this because as I wrote it, I heard my own interior, ever-present adolescent voice call me similarly awful names. And the fact that I used the phrase, “sporting event” seals the deal. And all that the adult me could say back to adolescent me was, “Why don’t you say that to my face?” - but I kind of did. Resuming article.]
So what did I do about it?
Although in truth this exchange had very little to do with my eventual decision, I have to thank the grumpy butcher guy for pushing me one step forward on the real food track. I certainly didn’t buy chicken from their meat counter again (ha-HA, Butcher guy! Feel the Burn!!! (Wow this is getting sad.)). And that, among other things, got melooking for alternative resources for chicken and beef. In my post-wimpification state, I was highly susceptible to the suggestion that maybe buying from the grocery store wasn’t my strongest move.
We started out looking to the vendors at Farmer’s Markets, but ultimately it was a bit too pricey. I support the farmer’s market, but $4.00-$4.50 a pound for chicken is a little on the, “are you kidding me?” side.
Besides, if I want to pay those kind of prices, I’ll save it for a date night at Whole Foods,where I can overspend, sit down, and have sushi floating along beside me on a conveyor belt while I pocket some spare napkins for the glove box.
An activity, incidentally, which I am told is a common occurrence - the date night part. A friend who works at the gourmet foods counter says that foodies who get a night out sans children often skip the movie theater and head straight for a dinner of Whole Foods cheese samples, followed by a dessert course of knife and cast iron cookware shopping at Sur la Table. Count me in!
(Incidentally, does anyone know - can you buy your own conveyor belt? Because conveyor belts are almost as cool as light sabers, considering light sabers don’t exist. In this sector of the galaxy, anyway.)
Anyway, rather than paying these prices, we decided to take our next step in seeking out real food:we are eliminating the purchase of meat and poultry from grocery stores by going directly to the farmer, where there is even less chance of getting punched.
In fact, we have now placed an order for 30 whole, bug-eating, grass-plucking, pasture-hanging-out, stress-free chickens, the majority of which will be ready in September. 30 Chickens! In fact, our first 5 arrived this week - which you’ll see in tomorrow’s Friday recipe.
This whole “real food” thing seems to be getting a little out of hand, don’t ya think?
Stay tuned for part 2 where I explain, how, why, and what to do if you can’t find a farmer near you.