Omnivore - Trade commercial bird for freedom-loving, pasture-raised meat

Pastured Poultry Week connects chefs, farmers, and consumers

Pastured Poultry Week returns to the Southeast for a fifth year from Mon., July 11, through Mon., July 18. Throughout the week, local chefs, restaurants, and farmers will promote the use of pasture-raised meats in restaurants and in consumers’ homes. Presented by the Southeastern Sustainable Livestock Coalition, Pastured Poultry Week aims to educate consumers about the benefits of buying pastured poultry and to link the whole chain, from producer to chef to consumer and back, sort of like farm-to-table dining. 

??Pastured birds live outdoors –– on a pasture –– where they’re free to roam in fresh air, pecking, scratching, and digging for food as they please. The chickens also follow their natural omnivorous diet rather than the vegetarian diets commercial chicken farms adhere to, according to March. These combined factors result in a more nutrient rich and more flavorful chicken.

SSLC executive director Gillian March and Gunshow executive chef Joey Ward put the benefits of pastured poultry simply: It just tastes better. “It tastes like chicken, not just some meat, some ubiquitous protein that needs sauces or whatever,” March says. “Maybe the chicken that our grandmothers or great grandmothers would have cooked.”

More than 50 local restaurants are participating in Pastured Poultry Week this year along with farmers Will Harris (White Oak Pastures), Brandon Chonko (Grassroots Farms), and Daniel Dover (Darby Farms). Many of the participating chefs and farmers are members of SSLC. Gunshow hopped on board after a restaurant field trip to White Oak Pastures last year, where the team met with proprietor Will Harris about “the issues the farmers are facing from the consumer standpoint.”

“I decided then and there that we would make a bold statement at the restaurant in support of the cause and educate our clientele on what goes into raising our food the correct way and why the costs are greater to the consumer,” Ward says.

Gunshow’s menu for the week highlights various ways to utilize pastured poultry. Some dishes, such as the “pavo en mole negro,” a traditional Mexican mole using pastured turkey, focus on the pasture-raised component of the dish. Others show ways to use parts of the bird most consumers toss out without a second thought such as halibut wrapped in chicken skin, hearty pasta Bolognese made with ground chicken hearts (pun intended), and short ribs made from duck legs cooked in beef fat.

Ward promises plenty of whimsy throughout the menu with dishes like “giant free range chicken nuggets” and smoked turkey legs that evoke Renaissance festival and amusement park treats. Other selections will include white fish nigiri with cured duck ham, spoonbread with smoked mushroom creamed corn and soft-cooked farm egg, white shrimp and chicken “ceviche,” and a salad made with the products found in the feed White Oak Pastures gives their chickens.

The fact remains that pastured poultry and other sustainable food items are more expensive and less accessible than their commercial counterparts. Ward says once enough people are buying pastured poultry, the cost will go down, and pastured poultry will become more easily accessible.

“The first step is to educate the public. An educated consumer base will make informed decisions regarding their need/desire to eat a better raised bird which creates demand,” Ward says. “Once the demand is there, the farmers can cultivate stronger relationships with retailers and increase availability.”

The SSLC recommends consumers utilize the entire chicken (or other poultry). Instead of buying thighs, breasts, and wings in separate packages, consumers can buy the whole bird and break it down. Or they can roast the whole chicken and use the spare parts to make soup or stock.

At the end of day, change only comes from the consumers, because it’s a food dollar that the consumer is willing to spend. ... And we want consumers to be demanding high welfare standards in farming. We want consumers to be demanding a sustainable agriculture system through their food dollars, because that, at the end of the day, is the only thing that’s going to make substantial changes.”

Local restaurants participating in Pastured Poultry Week 2016 include:
 ?? Bellina Alimentari,
El Super Pan Latino Sandwiches & Bar,
5 Seasons Brewing,
Cooks & Soldiers,
Bantam + Biddy,
Miller Union,
Farm Burger,
The National
Wrecking Bar Brewpub
Kimball House
Miller Union
Brush Sushi Izakaya
Ration & Dram
Seed Kitchen & Bar ?? Check out the full list of participants here.

Pastured Poultry Week continues through Mon., July 18. On Sat., July 16, join White Oak Pastures at Gunshow for a meet and greet with farmer Will Harris and chef Joey Ward.

This post has been updated from its original version.