In an American supermarket there is nothing finer than the rotisserie chicken. Hot, fresh, slow-roasted, a few spicing options but not too many, kept warm but done cooking, juices sealed in a custom leak-proof container—and, at somewhere between six and eight bucks, a shockingly good deal. For my money, rotisserie chicken competes with sliced bread and prewashed salad greens for the title of Greatest American Supermarket Convenience.
I always end my grocery-store trips with a stop at the rotisserie counter. But on my last visit, two words caught my eye—words I wish I had never seen. On the top row of the stack of warm chickens, beyond the “herb blend,” “lemon garlic,” and “BBQ” varieties, sat a solitary chicken labeled “free range.” Of course, I knew of the distinction between free-range and “normal” chickens. I had heard about the inhumane conditions that prevailed on industrial poultry farms, and at bottom I did want chickens to have a better life, roaming free, stopping only momentarily to deliver their potential for propagating themselves into a foam carton for my Saturday morning huevos rancheros. I had already decided that yes, I was willing to pay a little more for their freedom—my gift back to chickens for a lifetime of breakfasts. But until now that decision was confined to the egg aisle. What was a free-range chicken doing at the rotisserie counter?
I have flirted with vegetarianism in the past, and once gave up meat for Lent. But I found the...