It isn’t true that I dislike chickens. I do like them—grilled, roasted, fried, in salad, and in soup. I just don’t fully appreciate chickens in their pre-butchered state.
This perhaps unreasonable attitude stems, like many prejudices, from childhood experience. Being sent every day to persuade uncooperative and hostile hens to abandon their fresh-laid eggs can have a traumatic impact on an innocent little girl, even when she arms herself with a stout stick. As a result, I wouldn’t ordinarily cross the road to look at a chicken.
But last week we went to the fair, and my fair-going companion wanted to check out the chickens. When he was small, he helped raise a few bantams. Either their small size made them less intimidating than the chickens I remember, or someone else gathered their eggs, or his chickens all died before he had a chance to learn their true character. For whatever reason, he had more positive poultry-related childhood memories than I did. So we ventured into the poultry exhibit.
Just inside the door was posted a list of chicken classes. This came as a surprise to me. As far as I’m concerned, chickens have no class. As we walked (warily, on my part) between the rows of wire cages, however, it did become clear that chickens come in more varieties than I would ever have imagined.
There were arrogant roosters in bright reds and bronzes. Bright-eyed hens in gleaming browns and blacks. Tiny but proud bantams. Fancy-dress chickens with fluffy feathers between their toes. One otherwise ordinary white rooster was the most enormous chicken I had ever seen, big enough for a month of Sunday dinners. There were even “naked-necked” chickens, just what their name implies, bearing an unsettling resemblance to the turkey buzzard.
There were chickens which, instead of combs, had crests of stiff feathers on their heads. The crests quivered with every peck and bob of their heads, sticking up as if their hairdressers had been heavy-handed with the styling gel. One cage held four of these crested critters, in mottled gray and white. They looked like a rock band who had spent a lot of time too close to their own amplifiers.
Then there were the “frizzled” chickens. Their feathers were oddly crimped, as if they had poked a toe into an electrical outlet. Or maybe they had narrowly survived an attack by a coyote. Or else they had all been to a cut-rate hairdresser and gotten really bad perms.
Even as a non-fan of the chicken, this experience gave me an opportunity to see these unique birds in a new way. True, they came in different colors and sizes, with varieties of feathers and combed or uncombed heads. Still, they were more alike than different, with their proud plumage and their bright eyes and their little chicken hearts. It made me stop and think about how much they all had in common.
Particularly the fact that they probably all taste just like chicken.