This post is republished nearly verbatim from the original.
Finding our supply of the best eggs in the universe once again depleted, we made the pilgrimage up to the Choiniere Family Farm to replenish our stock. Upon arrival, we discovered two dozen of the happy little miracles set aside for us, whereupon we met up with Guy in the barnyard, armed with basket in hand and trusty Scout wagging joyously at his side. “Let’s see if we can find another dozen for you,” Guy said, “and make it a little more worth your while.” He handed me the basket. “I’ll even let you collect them!”
Cheering, I excitedly pounced at the opportunity. Save my first up-close-and-personal experience with hens only a few short months earlier in a small coop in Central Virginia—which really didn’t even count because I didn’t find an egg—I’d never had the good fortune to forage for eggs fresh from the good little ladies who’d laid them. I’m not sure what I was expecting; I suppose I’d perhaps envisioned a cozy, bucolic scene in which soft and perhaps slightly snoozy hens—taking great pride in their important role in this entirely symbiotic relationship—would chirp a pleasant good morning to me as I gently reached beneath them and closed my hand tenderly around their eggs. Perhaps I’d thought I’d murmur soothingly to them, pat them on their little heads, thank them politely for the eggs, and stroll softly away with my basket swinging gaily from my forearm, stepping out into a breathtakingly sunny morning with the skies full of singing and swooping birds, the fragrance of sun-warmed hay perfuming the world. Tra-la-la-la.
I suppose it’s ridiculous but nonetheless entirely true that, before that morning, it had never occurred to me that the hens would not exactly be overjoyed to relinquish the eggs for which they’d worked so hard—and that, as a result, there was the potential for something of a battle of wills between both parties who wanted said eggs. As I gigglingly approached my first hen and began reaching forward, I was dismayed when she looked me right in the eye and screeched menacingly. I snapped my hand back and blinked bleakly at Guy. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “Will she bite me?” (How ludicrous to use the word bite regarding a creature devoid of teeth.)
Guy chuckled. “She’s feeling you out,” he said. “She’s trying to see who’s in charge. If you’re calm and in control, she won’t peck you.”
Tentatively, I reached forward again. The chicken screamed. I snapped my hand back. “Are you sure?”
Guy assured me, “Even if she pecks you, it won’t hurt. Once she realizes that she can’t scare you, she’ll stop.”
I stood there staring down this virtually defenseless five-pound creature and realized that my knees were quaking. I laughed incredulously at my own cowardice; it was suddenly inconceivable to me that I felt fear in the face of this little feathery lady armed only with a beak, a shrilly voice, and defiance. I squared my shoulders and plunged in, quavering, “Excuse me, little lady!” And she pecked me!
In Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he discusses at length the importance of becoming a part of the life cycle of the foods one eats, including the less enjoyable aspects of food acquisition, such as participating in the slaughter of animals if one chooses to eat them. Given that so much of what we as a society typically eat is purchased in vast, refrigerated commercial spaces, already portioned out, attractively packaged and cleverly marketed, it is virtually impossible for the average consumer to identify with all of the vast effort involved on the part of every single person engaged in the production of food—and particularly high-quality, wholesome food. It occurred to me as I jerked back my pecked finger and examined the broken skin with some degree of shock that, every time I’ve purchased eggs from the Choinieres or from any family farm, someone had to go out and brave these feisty little ladies for me. All I’ve had to do is hand over the money and continue on my merry way. I’m not the one out there caring for these animals, seeing to their needs throughout their lives and then seeing to their final needs after their lives have ended—every bit of it in a humane, responsible, respectful way. I’m not the one who’s under assault from vigilant and protective creatures when I’m trying to take from them something very personal and precious. Investing energy and intent in some of these behind-the-scenes aspects of food is allowing me to become infinitely more cognizant of my role in this cycle, as well, and it affords me sharper clarity into the widespread and varied impacts of the decisions I make with regard to how I feed myself and the amount of respect with which I regard my food—and those who produce it—and how it arrives on my plate. It is both truly gratifying and deeply humbling. I realize just how much more I have to learn. I realize just how much I have always taken good food for granted.
I trudged from hen to hen, gingerly groping beneath them to see what I could find, sometimes getting pecked and sometimes not. When at last we’d managed to find another dozen, we headed back to pack them up and put them in the car. I proudly showed off my first-ever farm-begotten battle wound to Guy, feeling somewhat more worldly for having acquired it and having a smug and vainglorious sense that I now possessed insider knowledge about life on the farm.
Guy then displayed his forearm, deeply grooved and scarred over with angry red slash marks. “These are from the meat birds two weeks ago,” he said of the scars. “They really put up a fight!”
Not a day has passed during this exploration when I haven’t learned a valuable lesson and when I haven’t gained an even greater perspective and a deeper appreciation for the true art that is farming … and gardening … and foraging … and food preservation. Not a day has gone by when I haven’t felt even more grateful for people like the Choinieres and all of the wonderful people we have met who champion efforts to care for their animals and their gardens and the earth and themselves … and all of us.