Free Birds

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...

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About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.