A Chicken in Every Backyard

Allen Burt

To incorporate more mindfulness in my life, I began applying this awareness practice to eating food.  Those times when I was actually sitting at table and focusing on my meal, which I must confess isn’t always, I began to focus on what I was actually putting into my mouth.  For example, if I was drinking my typical morning shake, I would thank the hen for her eggs; the cow for her milk, the berry bushes for their fruits and the banana tree and coffee bean plants for their bounty. Sometimes I would go further and thank the pickers, packers, drivers, distributors and markets from which the food came.


One time as I was munching on peanuts I realized I didn’t know what a peanut plant looked like, and though I knew almonds and walnuts come from trees, I had never seen a peanut plant. I didn’t know that the peanut plant produces beautiful yellow flowers and that it is not a true nut; rather it is a legume. Not knowing where our food comes from is unfortunately and unbelievably becoming common.  One BBC news writer reported that “Almost a third of UK primary pupils think cheese is made from plants and a quarter think fish fingers come from chicken or pigs…Nearly one in 10 secondary pupils thinks tomatoes grow underground….”


My Italian grandmother used to raise chickens in her humble home backyard in a mining town in Pennsylvania.  If tonight she was making chicken for dinner, she would walk down her back porch steps, select a good candidate from her flock, and proceed to butcher the bird.  I mean hands-on, apron blood, and feather plucking. “ As one who has observed this put it, “Taking life [for food sustenance] can be done compassionately, gently, warmly and with deep respect …It’s a very intimate experience…”Can you imagine living that close to your poultry and knowing exactly where it came from and what you had fed it?  Well, Nonna did.


A connection to food source and land provides several important benefits: healthy meals, respect for life, and in some cases a connection to old traditions and cultural practices. Researchers published their findings in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction that reported a certain group of Cree believe in living close to the earth, hunting their own food and in the importance of benefiting from the entire animal.  You can bet Nonna used every portion of her bird, neck, liver, gizzards and all. A connection to our food source is a connection with the earth and by extension, with our spirit.


In writing about this study, Traci Pederson, in her article Deep Ties to the Earth: How One Northern Cree Tribe Finds Peace of Mind ,posed questions providing substantial food for thought: How disconnected do we feel from the land? Do we at least know where our food comes from? See what a little mindfulness at your eating table, your food altar, can trigger in you. Create a “food despacho” in which you thoughtfully place food on your plate and give thanks for your bounty.

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