I was distressed to learn, a few months back, that Rosie, my darling guilt-free Rosie was just a withered up old hag of a hen. Well, maybe not a hag, but at least a harpie of some kind, definitely a shrewish bird, living as she does in giant sheds that don’t REALLY get her out for her sun-and-grubs constitutional. I would have to order chickens from my local chicken man like Man of La Muncha and Butter Bitch. But then I noticed that the Whole Foods near me had chicken that I could have sworn said "pasture" and didn’t have any kind of Rosie signage. Could I really be so lucky? I called them up.
Me: Hello, what kind of chicken do you have?
He: We carry only Petaluma Poultry. Rosie, Rocky, and Rocky Junior. They’re all free range.
Me: Oh, so do they go outside?
He: The organic chickens are in a shed and free range in there but can’t go outside. They have to be in area where there’s only organic feed. Outside the shed they could pick up pesticides.
Me: And Rocky?
Rockie goes "outside," but he's not organic, he's all natural. And the outside is one of those pens. I tried to ask about any chix that are actually pastured, but he sort of went back to the free range argument and I left it there. He sounded irritable.
So I emailed Whole Foods central to ask if they ever carried any pastured chicken and waited eagerly for the response.
Meanwhile, I head to Whole Foods to see what I can see there. The chicken at the counter is labeled “Fresh Range Raised, California grown” along the top of the laminated sign, and “Range Chicken Breast / Leg etc” in the middle. Interesting. They don’t say free range, which has been slightly discredited, but they don’t say pastured either. It’s some kind of middle word. PLUS, they used to advertise the Rockyness and the Rosieness of the chickens. Now, R&R are nowhere to be found. My sense of impending good fortune (real chicken!) turned into a sense of impending coverup. Is this poultry being greenwashed?
So I ask the guy.
Me: Don’t you carry Rocky and Rosie any more?
He: Yes, these are Rocky [he points to the the "range chicken"] and Rosie [points to the organic free range]. They’re free range.
Me: So inside free range, like in a shed?
He: [Smiling knowingly] Yeah, like that.
I haven’t heard back from WF central yet, but I guess I don't need to. They do not, in fact carry free-free range chickens. So here’s what I think, here’s my suspicion. Rosie has been eliminated. Michael Pollan has besmirched her previously good reputation as a hen of integrity and now WF doesn’t want to be associated with her. Instead, they’re hoping that calling Rosie and Rocky “range” chickens, will conjure up the images of a proper pastured chicken.
I have no proof of this, of course. The meat counter guys are unlikely to reveal such deceptions to me. I do remember, though, that WF used to call its chix by name. Now that the name has fallen into disrepute (in some circles), they are anonymous. Which is a sort of half assed step in a direction --- not sure if it’s the right direction. It means there’s an acknowledgement of the flaws in the factory free range chicken, but it also means that the chicken looks a bit more commoditized than it did before. I hope the next step will be to decommoditize them once again, but to add another chix to the mix: to have Rosie, Rockie, and Joe’s Smiths Pastured Hens at Whole Foods.