Mark Anthony Low is a globetrotting chef originally from the central swamps of England but recently working in Sweden. He’s written a three-part account of his recent visit to the Älska Mat food festival in Malmö – here’s the final instalment.
[continued from Part Two: Brews and bruises]
One of the more worrying conversations I had was at a stall which was showcasing chicken. I tried some of said fowl and yes, it tasted good. And all its advertising of “a natural part of life’s goodness” and its pictures of happy-looking chickens and green fields had me believing that this company thought like I did, that chickens should live like chickens.
However, when I asked the exhibitor if his chickens were free-range his answer kind of confused me: ”Yes, they are free-range, but they don’t go outside, they are free-range indoors.”
Now, that’s a bit of a strange concept to me. It’s like saying, “I am a vegetarian as I like to eat potatoes with my steak”! So I delved further into this man’s ideas.
He told me that in Sweden the free-range that I know of (as in the birds having use of the outdoors) is not popular with farmers and they keep their chickens “free-range” inside barns, in that they are not in cages but kept inside. He carried on attempting to convince me that it was good by saying, “We feed them 30% corn,” which just left me wondering what the other 70% was. Doubtless a mixture of proteins from ground-up chickens mixed in with a heavy dose of antibiotics to stop them getting ill from their “stress-free” living style.
He went on to give me an explanation why farmers don’t like the chickens to go outdoors: “The breed we use don’t like going outside. If they go outside it stresses them and makes the meat tough. And also there is a risk of salmonella from them being in fields.”
For me that whole idea is a little bit askew, especially in the surroundings we were both in. After all, we were in a food exhibition supposed to be showcasing the best of foods and the only person on show for chickens was a company who thought that fields stressed out chickens. Bizarre.
On coming home, though, I did a bit of research on the internet and although the majority of Sweden’s chickens are not exactly free-range there are a few companies that produce it this way. One of them, Bosarpkyckling, is selling chicken with its “KRAV” stamp in a lot of supermarkets and three restaurants within Malmö. It’s good to see some places are taking interest in where their food comes from. But it still needs some more awareness on the whole subject, at least to show the breeders that chickens really do not get stressed with being outside and the meat tastes better when the chicken has a better life.
Anyhow, feeling a little bit disheartened by my talk with Chicken Man I obtained a glass of a fantastic Rioja from a wine supplier, ate some more little bits of meat on toothpicks and made my exit from all things culinary back to the wet streets of Malmö, leaving my glass at the exit in return for 25 kronor.
Älska Mat is a little bit overpriced for what was on offer but it was good to have a showcase platform for some of the smaller companies. However, I hope that next year the organisers provide a little more for the entrance fee. And I keep my fingers crossed that they’ll ban all pushchair users from coming in and direct them to McDonald’s instead. They have a nice area for pushchairs and no matter how hard you try, your kids are going to prefer a Happy Meal over a bit of aged Parmesan on a stick with a little truffle tapenade. Save the culinary gems for the people who really appreciate them as much as they like bruise-free ankles.