The Accidental Locavore Tries Whole Foods’ 5-Step Program for Chicken

This morning the Accidental Locavore bought some chicken at Whole Foods. Yeah, so? While looking over the case for thighs to make the Indian chicken with yogurt, I noticed a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating System for the happiness of the animals.  This being competitive New York, once I found the chicken thighs, it was time to make sure my chickens lived in relative paradise before they ended being dinner. No such luck. The most blissful chickens weren’t so idyllic, only a 2 on the scale of 1-5. Luckily, the Indian chicken is spicy, so their less-than-privileged upbringing will be lost (for sure now) under a shower of chiles, cilantro and ginger.

Being curious, the Locavore approached a woman unloading more meat into the case. “What have you got that’s got a 5 rating?” “Nothing, we’ve just got ones and fours.” “OK, so what’s a four?” “The organic ground beef.” My cynical brain automatically thinks that’s a weird item to have the most bucolic rating in the store. Once you’ve ground it, who knows what it started out as…and if the organic ground beef is a 4, then shouldn’t the organic steaks that it supposedly comes from also be a 4? A quick scan reveals no other rated beef in the pre-packaged case–nothing.

It’s sort of the reverse of another rating system that makes me crazy. Often you’re asked by a car dealership (VW especially) or a hotel to rate the service, however they tell you if you don’t give it the highest rating, everyone gets fired (or some other dire threat). Well, if there’s no room to improve a service, and trust me, no one is perfect, what’s the point of a rating?

So, Whole Foods, what’s the purpose of the 5-step program if, being a competitive New Yorker, the Locavore can’t feed her friends and family 5+ meat and chicken that spent their entire lives living in nirvana on the (same) farm? Now, I’ve got company coming for dinner and it’s going to stress me all day…do I tell them that we’re only having #2 (“enriched environment” meaning they only got one thing to play with…darn it!) chicken thighs???? What will they think?

Provided you were able to get the whole range of upbringing, do you think there are people out there who could taste the full spectrum of chicken thighs and be able to tell you which ones were the lowly 1’s, (or God forbid, unrated) and which were the more formerly blissful 5’s? Kind of like those wine tasters who can tell you what part of which forest the oak barrel came from…

The rating system is “available” at all Whole Foods stores in the US and now, Canada, for beef, pork and chicken, which begs another question…what about lamb? While everyone else is striving for a life of leisure with lots of toys (and what is a pig’s favorite toy?), who forgot the sheep?


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