Shift – Up Close and Personal

Chickens. It was a whole new world.

We got Betty and Boop from a neighbouring island and brought the girls home to weed the garden. They cluck and trill and scratch and poop. They bathe in the dust and nest in the coop.

Photo of Chickens by Kevin Eaves

Oh, the reciprocity: I keep them healthy and safe, they peck and scratch away unwanted greenery. An egg now and then was supposed to be a welcome bonus.

When I found four eggs in four days, I felt the universe smiling upon me… and then it made me squirm.

I hadn’t expected mixed feelings. I wanted to be ecstatic, proudly self-sustaining, congratulating myself on this healthy lifestyle choice—all part of “knowing where my food comes from.”

But my grew-up-on-a-farm husband had seen it coming. “I knew you’d be like this,” he rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Just scramble them. Do it. Eat them.”

I’m not a farmer. I’m a vegetarian, an overly-sensitive one. One who cares that food animals have a good life before they become food, who makes a point of buying eggs laid by free-range chickens.

But it was a whole lot easier when I didn’t know the hens.

These eggs, from what were now my chickens, suddenly, this was, well…personal!

I hovered and fussed in the kitchen. Time flew out the brunch window. I was genuinely hungry. Still, I hesitated.

I picked some berries.

I washed the floor.

I read a magazine.

I brushed the cat.

I put in a load of laundry.

I checked email.

I took every opportunity to avoid breaking those eggs.

“Just get it over with,” my husband coached. “I’m telling you: scramble them. With. The. Whisk.”

It sounded so violent.

I’m supposed to just get cracking? Just like that? Totally blasé? Single-handedly, a la Julia Child…Then whip them into… Something in me objected. Betty and Boop took a lot of time and energy to make those eggs.

Up to this point, I’d always had pets. Animals I love and care for. Animals I take to the vet to vaccinate and “get fixed.” I send pictures of them to my friends….

With the arrival of the chickens and the eggs, I realized, this was a whole new kind of human-animal relationship, one I wasn’t prepared for, and I wasn’t completely comfortable with it.

It hit me—hard: these are working animals. I am using them— for food.

Betty and Boop are red and black. They’re pretty—for chickens. I tend to them with food and water, close the door to their coop at night and let them out each morning. I check the fence around the garden. It makes me smile when I hear their contented warbling. I worry about them when they squawk. And now, I have a whole new level of respect for the concept of keeping chickens.

I did eventually steel myself and break two eggs to make an omelet, with garlic and basil from my garden.

For once, I didn’t burn my meal.

For once, I ate slowly, carefully, truly tasting each mouthful, with reverence.

I savoured my new reality, grateful that it had hit home.

Julie Ann Luoma is happy to share quirky conclusions drawn from life’s little dramas.