Why Aren’t We Asking More Questions About Chicken?

June 15, 2015

Do you remember when we first heard about the sinister Avian Flu in 2003? We panicked. The news covered this new bird disease incessantly. China and its Avian Flu became synonymous with illness and fear.


Now this disease (in a morphed form) is affecting poultry in about 20 states, forcing the slaughter of more than 45 million birds, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The disease’s expansion across our country has caused more than 200 outbreaks among chickens, turkeys and other birds. http://www.cnbc.com/id/102730041



“While these recently identified HPAI H5 viruses are not known to have caused disease in humans, their appearance in North American birds may increase the likelihood of human infection in the United States,” the CDC said.


It turns out that people can get Avian influenza—both H5N1 and H7N9 have infected and killed people. H7N9 avian influenza has infected 622 people since 2013 and killed 227 of them, according to the CDC.


The CDC tells us that cooked poultry and eggs are not infectious. They say that farms known to be most affected must destroy all birds and eggs.  They tell us that warm weather will stamp out the virus. They tell us the Avian flu could spread as migratory birds move south.


They tell us the experts are really worried.


Even so, we are seeing and hearing very little in national news reports. I don’t see, read, or hear anyone alerting us to this problem with any serious attention. We have to do some of our own digging to get to any real information.


The latest headline I read was about bakers in the US worrying about egg supplies. The article spoke about prices, availability, and lobbyists’ work to re-establish the import of eggs from the Netherlands so our bakery business doesn’t suffer loss.




However, in my view, we are having the wrong discussion and certainly asking the wrong questions.


Instead of risking our collective health with compromised birds and eggs or trying to import them, why are we not using our genius to find better alternatives to chicken, turkey and eggs?


Never in the history of humanity have we consumed so much poultry and eggs. We have been sold the bill of goods that chicken is a healthier option when it comes to animal protein, but is it?


With Americans eating more than 70 pounds of chicken each year and an egg a day on average (unless you embrace a Paleo lifestyle which can include as many as 12 eggs daily), it’s important to look at chicken and eggs and their impact on our health and wellness.


Beef sirloin contains 89 grams of cholesterol in 3 ½ ounces. Chicken, without the skin, has 85 grams in 3 ½ ounces. Chicken does contain less saturated fat than beef, in the spirit of honesty.


But I ask again. Does that mean it’s healthy for us? Is the question of cholesterol and saturated fat our biggest concern? Or is it a bigger question we should be considering?


Now before you get your panties in a knot, I know we love chicken. I did an event recently where a woman asked me if I was suggesting she not eat fried chicken with an edge to her voice that struck a note of fear in my heart.


While I am certainly a fan of forgoing chicken altogether, from both an ethical and a health standard, I live in the real world where we have, for some reason, fallen in love with this bird and are loathe to give up its consumption, even if it would be healthier overall to do just that.


But are there other, just as satisfying options? Options that would be healthier for us, and for the planet? 


According to The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the most important factor to consider when deciding whether or not to consume animal protein is the percentage of calories from fat. In the leanest cuts of beef, calories from fat clock in at about 30%. Skinless chicken follows pretty closely at 23% calories from fat. 


I know what you’re thinking. Here is where she goes all vegan on us. For once, you’re right. While I generally don’t hold a hard line on a lot of things, I just can’t seem to find the good news I wish I could give you on eating animal protein. Yes, it’s a source of protein, but so is virtually every other food you eat, except fruit.


Quinoa is a whole grain and contains the same complete protein as an egg.


Millet, another whole grain, has 22 grams of protein in a cup.


Cooked lentils? 18 grams.


For goodness sake, there’s 3 grams of protein in a cup of kale! Even tomatoes have a gram of protein in a medium-sized fruit.


I could go on and on but the point is simple. There are countless healthy sources of protein if we eat whole grains, beans, and veggies. The truth is that the recommended daily amount of what we need is about .36 grams of protein per pound we weigh, which averages out to 12-14% of our caloric intake. So this obsessive need for large volumes of protein is a bit of a myth.


With animal protein comes a level of fat and contaminated meat that is, in my view, simply too risky for us to continue to consume it. Do you need to go cold turkey (pun fully intended) and eliminate chicken at once? No, but I do think you need to begin to make the transition to a chickenless existence.


An update: There’s a business website I follow dedicated to commercial baking and my heart fluttered when I saw that they were doing a slide show of egg alternatives. My naïve self expected  natural options like chia or camelina seeds to bind and tofu for moisture. Instead, I saw a slide show of chemicals, gums and stabilizers designed to do artificially what eggs did naturally. I should have known…


What are we to do in its place? Well, as much as I want to tell you to hike up your skirt and make choices that are healthier for you, here are some great ideas to help you begin to transition away from the bird. The good news for you is that I will be posting some great recipes this week to help you replace poultry in your world…should you choose to do that!