St. Paul and the $5 Chicken

It’s almost Thanksgiving and I can’t stop thinking about food. Even at Mass, while wrangling Cora, my ears perk up at the slightest mention of eating. During the second reading from 2 Thessalonians I caught this gem: For even when we were with you we gave you this rule: ” If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

That’s some heavy stuff. Shall not eat?! I don’t know about you, but eating is a very important part of my day. Now, I know that Paul is warning against idleness in this section, talking about pulling your own weight and not being a burden to others, but I can’t separate the food example from the general warning. In fact, when I really sit down and look at it, I’m not pulling much of my own weight when it comes it food. For example: The other day I bought a 6lb chicken for less than 5 dollars. Great deal, right? I thought so, too. At first. But how is it possible to house, feed, process, package, ship, store and sell a whole chicken for less than $5? There are so many people involved with getting that bird to our table that for $5 someone is getting stiffed. Most likely the farmer.

It is with this on our minds that Evan and I excitedly accepted an invitation from some neighbors to help them process their chickens last Saturday. When our house is finished we hope to have chickens for eggs and tick control, but we hadn’t fully discussed the chicken-for-meat aspect, so we thought we’d see how it was done and maybe pick up a few pointers. No big deal, we said, just knock off an old, slow layer when we’re feeling a bit peckish. How hard can it be?

So we left Cora with Grandma and we drove across town. The G family was all set up waiting for us, and a nicer, sweeter family I have yet to meet. The G’s had sent their littlest ones (2 and 5) to grandma’s also, but the 8 and 10 year-olds were fully expected to help out. It was hard work, and messy. The “offing” was left to the boys, mostly because Papa G cut his thumb last time and didn’t want anyone else to suffer the same fate. The plucker was a morbid kind of fun. The chickens were nice and warm inside on a cold day. The butchering required sharp knives, a trusting partner and a basic knowledge of chicken anatomy. But it was safe with killing cones, scalding water, ice buckets, sunshine, a cool breeze and brewer’s sanitizer. Most everything went to the freezer including the edible organs. The backs and feet were kept for stock making. The blood was kept for next year’s garden. For lunch we ate an entirely homemade meal, except for the butter, I think.

The G’s are just a normal family. Dad works outside the home, mama teaches music at home, the older kids go to public school. They live on three acres. But this family pulls their own weight. They have a huge garden, chickens of all kinds, turkeys, pigs and soon a cow. Enough to feed a family of six.

I know that not every one can or should do as much as the G family. That’s not really the point. The point is to do what you can to not to be a burden anyone when it comes to food. Not to burden the farmer and workers with inadequate compensation, not to burden my family with unhealthy meals, not to burden the planet with unsustainable growing practices, not to burden the animals with inhumane treatment, and not to burden the Lord with disrespect for his gifts. We’re looking forward to following the G’s example next year and start pulling more of our own weight around here.


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