ATLANTA CHEF SHAUN DOTY SHARES HIS PASSION FOR PASTURED POULTRY
As recently as the 1950s, average American chickens spent their days scratching and pecking, roaming around, wing flapping, doing their chicken thing. They lived nice, natural, lengthy chicken lives. Then some farmers realized the economic opportunity for industrializing the process, growing more chickens faster and in less space. It seems like an all-American success story, but now after decades of factory farming, we’re seeing the ruinous impact this business move has on human health, the planet, and the birds.
“It was done in the spirit of good economics and feeding more people; the genesis was wholesome but the outcome has gone off the rails,” says Chef Shaun Doty, restaurateur and a founder of Georgians for Pastured Poultry, an advocacy group working to inform consumers, businesses, and government about the true costs of factory farming and the need to support and develop more fair, humane, and sustainable alternatives.
The outcome of factory farming is layered, with facts that most find bothersome at best and downright horrifying at worst. Instead of providing wholesome food for more people, factory farming produces unhealthy chickens raised in cruel environments that also negatively affect our land, the air we breathe, and the water we drink (think: loss of biodiversity, deforestation, and air and water pollution due to contamination from the inordinate amounts of waste and byproducts). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says factory farms are a top-three cause of the most serious environmental problems at every scale from local to global.
So what can we do about it? Should we all become vegan? Doty, a meat eater and owner of Bantam + Biddy, a restaurant concept based on chickens and eggs, says giving up the bird isn’t necessarily the answer.
“I’m a pragmatist; I know Americans like to eat chicken, and so do I. But once you know about the damage factory farms do to the animals, our environment, our health, and our local economies, you want a better alternative,” he says. “Our country needs more demand for pastured-raised chickens, raised on farms that give them a healthy, natural life cycle. If each American family would make a personal commitment to devote a portion of their weekly food dollars to pastured poultry, that would be a tremendous message to the industry and the market would backfill for the demand.”
Doty suggests practicing traceability in food: “If you visit a local farmers market, you can meet the person who grew your vegetables and raised your chicken.” When dining out, he suggests seeking out restaurants that offer pastured poultry and support local farms. “Think about where your food comes from. Research and read about industrialized farming. Put a little money toward local, responsible agriculture to help grow demand and support your local economy. Even if it’s just your eggs for the week. That’s how an individual can make a huge difference.”
There’s also the issue of taste. “Pasture-raised chickens are more delicious, period,” he says. They tend to be leaner than engineered birds, which can look a bit “chubby” compared to pastured birds. Doty explains, “The legs, for example, lend themselves to longer cooking times because there’s less fat on them—dishes that allow for long braising like ropa vieja are especially flavorful.”
Featured below are some of Chef Doty’s favorite chicken recipes. Some use the entire bird—Chef Doty notes that buying a whole chicken makes your money go further.