curiosity about the ways of the world

Flying off the shelves

“Certain supermarkets have claimed that we haven’t made much impact on the demand for free range chicken. Yet from all over the country we’re hearing reports that free range chicken is flying off the shelves…But we need proof!” says Hugh.


And here it is:

Last week I finally got round to meeting the challenge from Hugh and went down to my local Tesco to photograph dead chickens.

I felt a little eccentric, pointing my mobile at the poultry shelves, half-hoping someone would ask me what I was doing. Remember that great moment on the telly when Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall launched his Chicken Out campaign and got chucked out of his local Tesco? The local manager took offence at Hugh thinking his comment to camera was ‘what an arsehole’ when what he actually said was something like ‘well there you are’.

No danger of me getting thrown out. No-one in my store took any notice at all. However I did get the evidence Hugh needs. There, beneath the repulsive latest give away offer; the flaccid, translucent, £1.99 ‘value’ chicken, was the free range shelf. Totally empty.

proof2.jpg orgchicken.jpg

The free range shelves are empty, and the next-best welfare bird is selling out too.

This is great news. If people really are prepared to pay a little more for a meal that tastes better, nourishes more and doesn’t destroy the soul of the suppliers , then there is a chance of knocking sense and humanity into the food industry.

What bugs me most is the nonsense that undercutting the true cost of food is value for money. You couldn’t pay me to eat a £1.99 chicken but I know I am biased. One of my grandmother’s had a farm on an Ulster hillside where chickens scrabbled all day in the grass outside the kitchen window and cockerels crowed all bloody night long. We collected eggs for breakfast, ate the occasional roast bird on a Sunday and had soup for days afterwards.

When Ray and I moved to Edinburgh we kept six chickens in our back garden just ten minutes walk from Princes Street. We got so many eggs we couldn’t eat them all but friends and neighbours liked the handouts and no-one minded the early morning chorus from the bottom of the garden (we didn’t have any cocks just lusty hens who let you know when they were laying). I don’t think we could have eaten any of the birds and in the end a fox got the last of our two old ladies. So I am queasy about the inevitable conclusion of being a meat eater: someone has to kill the bird or beast. But at least we can make sure they have a happy life in the meantime. Apart from anything else, they taste so much better for it.

For a real treat – for Christmas instead of a turkey or goose maybe – you can’t do better than a Linda Dick chicken (depending on weight they range from £15 to £20 but I haven’t tasted anything so good since granny’s Sunday lunch).

On the supermarket trail, I had a quick look in Waitrose too. They are selling big, fat, upmarket organic free range birds from £17.99 but also a very reasonable looking free range selection for around £7.99. As Hugh says, that means you can get at least two meals and a soup (maybe a sandwich or two) for a family of four for under eight quid. And there’s substance in the bones and no stain on your heart.

Hugh says email pix to ‘don’t forget to tell us who you are, and where and when your pictures were taken.’


  1. John

    Beats Gordon’s nightmares anyway.

  2. Dougal

    Well done. Excellent chicken campaigning. I wish I had roasted a nice free-range chicken for Sunday dinner now. I’m making a podcast series for Nick Nairn’s Cook School and last week learned how to joint a chicken. I look forward to catching one, killing it, plucking it and putting my new jointing skills into practice. Or I might buy a free-range one.

    All praise to Hugh F-W. A new national hero chef.

  3. Administrator

    Well, that’s quick and encouraging. Here’s the email I received after sending my Tesco pix to the Chicken Out campaign.

    “Thank you for your email.

    We have received literally thousands of messages, questions, and emails of support in response to the Chicken Out! campaign. We are delighted to receive your message and will try our best to reply, but please understand that due to this very heavy email traffic, we may not able to send everybody a personal response.”

    that’ll do for me

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