Smile Politely

Fryers, Broilers and Roasters

I may have grown up in suburbia, but I’m not completely ignorant about farm life. After all, some years I spend an entire afternoon at a county fair. As a child I played some wicked games of hide-and-seek in my cousin’s barn, which was the old-fashioned, wood and red-painted kind, not the corrugated metal atrocities they now use. I’ve also fished out of ponds that were pre-stocked, and to this day still enjoy listening to Jeff Foxworthy.

I say all this to provide some evidence, pathetic though it may be, that I do venture out into the country at times, and usually do not run screaming back to suburbia. And yet, I learned something this weekend that I feel I should have known, and also that I feel is kind of gross, in a city slicker kind of way.

I was at my wife’s family summer get-together, and learned that my niece was raising chickens for 4-H to be shown at the fair.

“Oh, what kind of chicken?” I asked, trying to sound interested, and also trying to sound like I would know one kind of chicken from another.

“They’re Broilers” her mom replied, beaming.

“Ha! That’s funny!” I said, genuinely amused. “It’s named after the way to prepare it!”

“Yeah, it is funny isn’t it? Chickens are either Fryers, Broilers or Roasters, depending on how big they are. She was able to get hers up to Broiler.”

I thought it was funny when I said it. It didn’t seem as funny when I found out a whole industry uses it as standard terminology. Apparently, we classify chickens in this country according to their size, and those classifications are mapped onto the best way to eat them at that size. I was unaware of this. Fryers are the smallest, and often sold in pieces. Broilers are bigger, sold whole, and apparently a source of pride among 4-H girls. Roasters are like turkeys or roasts, and are, well, roasted. And, come to think of it, “roasts” are also named after how we eat them.

How very specist of us. Not only do we reduce other entire species to being sources of meals for ourselves, but it seems we must incorporate that sad fact into their very names.

I suppose when aliens come to take over, we will clamor for them to sort us out according to skin color, religion, or sports team preference, and try to convince them to treat our group better. It will be some kind of cosmic justice when they classify us according to how big we are, and how they would likely eat us. Alien grocery stores will market us simply as Pie, Casserole and Full House Barbeque.

I myself have recently moved up from Pie to Casserole, and although an alien child might be proud if she’d been feeding and grooming me, I wonder if my last thought would be: maybe we should have treated the chickens better.

It just goes to show: You can learn something at a family reunion that is not related to bunion treatments, pre-school ratings in other cities, or which countries your uncle thinks we should nuke.

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