In a famous early sketch on Portlandia, Peter (Fred Armisen) and Nance (Carrie Brownstein) interrogate a server about the chicken on the menu. Who was he? (He was Colin.) Where did he come from, and how did he live? (Very nearby, free range.) What did he eat? (Sheep’s milk, soy, and hazelnuts.) Finally, Peter, still not quite convinced he can devour Colin in good conscience, asks, “Does he have a lot of friends—other chickens as friends?” A parody, the scene nonetheless captured the deep enthusiasm here for seasonal, organic, and ethical eating. It sure is nice to imagine our dinner ingredients living happily, roaming on pasture, and clucking with pals right up until the moment they’re painlessly decapitated.
But in reality, it’s actually quite hard to find Colin and his friends. In Portland, a handful of high-end restaurants—Veritable Quandary and Raven & Rose, to name a couple—do seek out pasture-raised, antibiotic-free chickens from small-scale local farms. But most Portland restaurants—especially those known for chicken—source from agribusiness giants like Foster Farms, Tyson, and Perdue. The brands often used as de facto synonyms for “organic” and “sustainable”—Draper Valley, for instance, and Coleman Natural—are subsidiaries of those big players. High-end grocery chains like New Seasons and Whole Foods tend to stock from similar sources.
Continue reading my story on Oregon's chicken dilemma in the September issue of Portland Monthly.