My grandmother—the one who lived on a farm, in Catalonia, a long, long time ago—used to raise chickens and rabbits sort of like you and I raise tomatoes and green beans, because they were cheap and tasted good. My grandparents were not poor, and they lived literally surrounded by food, from olives and grapes to pigs, but not one crumb ever went to waste.
Witness what my grandmother did with a chicken. I don\’t remember watching her kill one, or what she did with the feathers, but I know that she saved the blood for the pigs. The lungs and intestines went to them too. But the liver and gizzard were saved for the table (I can hardly stand to say the word “gizzard” now, much less eat one). And as a special treat for me, her only beloved granddaughter, she saved…the testes. Yes, I grew up on chicken testes, and I\’m o.k.
Every chicken yielded at least two dishes: a meat dish, and a broth. The meat dish included, along with breasts and legs, the comb. I still remember the look of it on the serving platter, kind of decorative, as if it had been cut out with scissors. I used to have dibs on the comb, too.
Into the broth went the de-combed head and the feet. Mercifully, these were strained out after they had yielded all their substance, and given to the pigs. But I still remember those pale legs with their pale nails, floating in the simmering broth.
My grandmother\’s chickens lived a good life, scratching and scavenging, and they died with dignity. The dignity came from the respect with which their remains were treated. Nothing was ignored, everything went to nourish someone, whether pig or human.
Unfortunately, the omnivorous habits of my childhood did not last. Today I can only eat chicken if the part I\’m eating is anatomically unrecognizable. But my grandmother\’s attitude towards food did stay with me. Paradoxically, one of the reasons I have chickens now is so they\’ll eat our leftovers, then turn them into manure with which to grow our vegetables, so we can eat and produce more leftovers to feed the chickens, and have nothing go to waste, ever. My grandmother never mentioned the cycle of Nature, but she was firmly rooted in it. Those roots anchor me too, and in this economic climate, that may be more than just a figure of speech.