I have never eaten a chicken’s foot. I cannot readily think of a more revolting snack even if I try: rats’ ears perhaps or boiled toenails of an aged person maybe. But chickens’ feet disgust me. They are horny and clawed and have spent most of their lives scratching around in offal, or worse. There cannot be much meat on them so people who do eat them present a nibbling, ratty like appearance as they consume. The whole thing is quite revolting, but it is very popular.
And yet, people eat a lot of chickens, According to the Vegetarian Calculator the average person in the USA consumes 2,400 chickens during their lives. That’s 4,800 feet which, if not consumed, are wasted. Surely that’s not good for the planet!
When I kept pigs I read a lot about them. One of the anecdotal stories suggested that a farmer’s wife could use every bit of a pig bar its grunt. It was a silly statement because dead pigs do not grunt, but you take the point. My daughter had a taste for pigs’ trotters, though I always suspected she ate them for effect rather than satisfaction and I can at least excuse this indulgence since there is considerably more meat on a pig’s trotter than a chicken’s foot.
Many people in the world eat insects and in China we saw a great variety of exoskeletal treats proffered at market stalls. I did not try them because I do not like them, even though I have not tried them. In Cambodia I watched a young lady vending grubs. I did not see anyone buying them, but she liked them. Every minute or so her hand strayed towards her display, plucked a nice fat grub and popped it into her month and then munched contentedly. The grubs were rather fat, like overfed maggots – and so was she.
There’s more on the insectivores. This blog has led to the discovery that my daughter-in-law is partial to the odd insect. With certain conditions she has allowed me to include a photograph of her munching a scorpion. At first I thought the creature was floating towards her willing mouth, but if you look closely you will see that the creature is on a stick – like a lollipop or scorpionpop.
When I was a boy we used to go levering. Elvers, I’m sure you know, are baby eels. To catch them we had first to dig up lots of worms. Then we, rather cruelly, sowed the worms onto threads, tied then all together in clumps and finally to a weight: this we attached to a stout rod with a strong cord. We then went forth to the Pill, a tributary of the River Severn, at the correct season of the year and dangled our worm clumps into the freshwater inlets that attracted the baby eels. They would hook their mouths onto the worms and we would lift them out and wipe them off into a bucket, time and time again. Might it have been simpler and equally nutritious, I now wonder, to eat the worms?
Back home my Mum would fry the elvers for breakfast and they were rather nice. Oddly, whilst writing this piece I picked up a BBC article with the headline: “Illegal elvers worth more than caviar on black market”. We could have been rich! And in a way we were, we also ate adult eels and flatfish that we caught and moorhens eggs that we stole from their nests, always leaving two behind. My mother always claimed that I and two other boys had eaten a dead seagull during one summer holiday. I have no recollection of that, but we were all three seriously ill later that year, missing almost a year’s schooling.
It is said that you are what you eat and I feel happier being part elver than I could ever feel about being part chicken foot. But what else can be done with the feet of so many chickens that are killed to provide Sunday roasts and chicken cutlets. I have a solution. When we had a small holding I killed our chickens as humanely as I could, then plucked them and removed their feet exposing the ligaments that had given the chicken control of its leg movements. I then chased our children around the farm whilst pulling on a ligament so that the foot seemed to be grabbing them. It was something to do. The chicken did not mind. It had passed into chicken heaven where its legs were extra long and fat edible grubs grew plentifully on trees.
(P.S. My son claims that he and I once did eat a chicken’s foot in Taiwan for a dare. I have no recollection of that and may have been drinking that country’s chicken soup laced with very strong rice wine at the time.)