What does the elite’s obsession with backyard chickens tell us about food trends?
Turns out there are a lot of take-home lessons from techies in the Silicon Valley who are investing in swanky chicken coops to house their heritage breed hens to produce organic, all-natural, multi-colored eggs to serve to their families and brag about to their friends.
According to an article written by Peter Holley titled, “The Silicon Valley elite’s latest status symbol: Chickens,” rich computer nerds are investing in flocks to get closer to the land and take a break from the screen time that dominates their days.
Holley writes, “In America's rural and working-class areas, keeping chickens has long been a thrifty way to provide fresh eggs. In recent years, the practice has emerged as an unlikely badge of urban modishness. But in the Bay Area - where the nation's preeminent local food movement overlaps with the nation's tech elite - egg-laying chickens are now a trendy, eco-conscious humblebrag on par with driving a Tesla.”
Picture $20,000 high-tech coops that can be temperature controlled from a smartphone, apps to track number and color of eggs produced and extravagant and novel breeds of chickens that cost $350 per hen versus the $15 for an ordinary chicken you might buy at a local feed store.
Holley explains that Silicon Valley chickens are often considered ‘members of the family,’ and one reader told him that she refuses to eat baked chicken from Whole Foods in front of her three birds. A Berkeley professor registered her one-eyed special needs rooster, Gwennie, as an emotional support animal. Because of his cross beak disability, she feeds him baby food mixed with grain. He also gets a weekly bath and a blow dry.
“It's not uncommon here to see chickens roaming in their owners' homes or even roosting in bedrooms, often with diapers on, according to Leslie Citroen, 54, one of the Bay Area's most sought after ‘chicken whisperers,’ who does everything from selling upscale chickens and building coops to providing consultation to backyard bird owners,” says Holley. “Her services cost $225 an hour. Want a coop and walk-in pen (known as a run)? You can expect to pay $4,000 to $5,000 for a standard setup.”
“We're obsessed with chickens and it's embarrassing," said Amina Azhar-Graham, in an interview with Holley, who credits her family's 10 birds with squelching her desire for more children with her husband, Justin, a software engineer. "We spend an insane amount of money. We thought we'd feed them leftovers, but our chickens end up eating grilled salmon, steak, fresh lettuce and organic watermelon.”
Am I the only one who thinks this is utterly ridiculous? However, before we roll our eyes at this outlandishly indulgent behavior, there are some important take-homes for us to consider.
First, despite the extremism of these excessive chicken outfits, the underlying theme is urban consumers want to feel closer to the land, livestock and their food. They desire to have that same romantic feeling of Old McDonald’s farm, and they want their children to experience this, as well.
Second, despite raising chickens for eggs, these folks tend to think of these hens as pets, not food. When their laying days are over, I highly doubt one of these beloved and pampered chickens becomes drumsticks and chicken patties.
Third, the elite few are determining production methods for the rest of us. Having much more disposable income than the average U.S. consumer, these folks — who are also voters at the polling booth — don’t care about input costs or the sustainability of producers; they are following an elitists’ ideology and ethos, with little consideration of the realities of implementing burdensome regulations or the escalated price at the grocery store or the need to import products from other countries as a result of how they vote.
It’s trendy and hip to consume heirloom, heritage, all-natural, organic, grass-fed, cage-free and so on, but it isn’t based on reality. It’s great if these folks are willing to pay a premium for these products, but the popular rhetoric also impacts the rest of us who want to eat safe and nutritious food — which conventional livestock production certainly provides — without breaking the bank.
Yet, we can’t ignore these folks. They are the influencers, the game changers and the ones who can impact change the most. What we can do is welcome them to the club; after all, they are now producers, too. Perhaps if they get an inside look at modern production practices, they’ll feel more confident in what we are doing and less inclined to put diapers on their chickens and welcome them into their homes.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.