My Chicken Goal

Image by Marji Beach on Flickr,
Creative Commons licensed.
"When I retire, I want to raise egg-laying chickens."

That's one of my new goals. 

In my day job at PC Magazine, I write a weekly column about organization and productivity called Get Organized. The newest column is about the importance of setting goals and actually writing them down. To work in a technology angle, the column discusses apps and tools you can use to stay on top of your goals and really plan to achieve them.

One of my favorite aspects of this column is I typically write about things that I either have been meaning to do, or things I already do. Writing down goals was one I've been meaning to do. It's been a few years since I last did it in earnest, with real attention to the difference between "goals" and "objectives." Goals are visionary. They are usually longer term ideas of yourself or your business, rather than specific mile-markers along the journey (those are objectives). But like objectives, goals usually should have some element of specificity in them, like a rough date for when you'd like to accomplish them. 

So that's how raising egg-laying hens in retirement came about.

Every so often, I mention to Boyfriend that I want to raise hens, but I know that in our current lifestyle, it's impossible. We live in New York city in an apartment with no private yard space. We're busy people. And while some urban dwellers are managing to keep three or four small hens in their tiny gardens, I can't imagine the fights they have with their neighbors. A lot of cities have laws about keeping "commercial" animals, and chicken-raising folks have to fight back and call their hens domestic pets."

This morning, I've started looking for small egg producing farms in the New York and New Jersey area. My plan is to write to a few of them and ask if they can take a working volunteer for a few non-consecutive days sometime in the next year so that I can start learning about what it takes to raise hens before I actually try it myself. I'd rather learn about raising hens slowly, little by little, over a number of years than buy a couple of hens without knowing what I'm doing thirty years from now. Learning now also gives me the opportunity to change my mind. I'll have a better idea what I'm in for.

What to Eat in New York in April?

If, like me, you live in the northeast side of the United States, you know that between now (when the weather starts to feel warm) and June (when food actually has grown enough to be harvested) is an arduous time. At the first hint of warm weather, I want bright acidic tomatoes, crisp corn on the cob, and strawberry juice dribbling down my chin. I want to smell the onion grass between my toes and experience the Doppler effect of the ice cream truck blaring that incessant music while racing to the park, where all the children and adults will slurp their drippy cones.

But nothing has grown yet. We've barely got garlic scapes and ramps. Apples picked last October still feel firm to the touch but have lost their luster. Oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines still arrive on trucks from their journey north from Florida and Georgia, but their time is nearly done.

What to eat in April in New York?

The all mighty Internet says fiddleheads should be in season, though I don't think I've ever seen a fiddlehead in the state of New York, ever. A few farmers might be digging up turnips this time of year, but to be honest, a turnip has never really turned my fancy. Onions may be ready to harvest, but aren't they always? The only special food I can think of for New Yorkers in April is oysters.

There used to be a saying: "Only eat oysters in months ending in 'R.'" They're best when the water's coldest, starting in SeptembeR, OctoberR, NovembeR, DecembeR. As oyster farming and harvesting practices changed, the slogan also adapted: "Only eat oysters in months with an 'R,'" so add to the list JanuaRy, FebRuaRy, MaRch, ApRil. April is your last chance until the fall to suck down some of those tasty little critters.

In New York City, I recommend The John Dory (Broadway at East 29th Street) and The Mermaid Inn (various locations).

Why Food Trucks are Antithetical to the Food Movement

People love food trucks. And it's not just "foodies." Everyone seems to love them. Except me.

Food trucks sell inexpensive food, which is appealing in a down economy, but because of their business model, they can do it while still experimenting with originality. Food trucks have a start-up company feel. Anyone with a very modest budget can give it a whirl. The investment is very small compared with starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant, which means there's more room for experimentation. Staff requirements are equally small. Depending on the business, you could conceivably have a one-person show. Having two people in the truck is kind of a rarity. Three people seems ideal, from what I've observed. For a food business, that's a tiny staff.

Ultimately, they sell "fast food," or "convenience food," and that's where it starts to get ugly.

Food trucks go where there's demand, and they can change their location at will. They can go wherever people are hungry and willing to pay for a quick bite. In urban areas, and in particular in low socio-economic urban areas, people very often live on convenience food, which is one of the big problems with fast food and what we in New York would call "deli food" or "corner store food." It's convenient and cheap, which is ideal for people on a budget, but it is horrifically unnutritious.

Food trucks often sell fried, high-fat, or high-calorie foods. It's all fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches with pork, waffles with chocolate sauce. Sounds pretty good, right? But there just aren't enough options for healthy and nutritious foods that are also convenient. Of all the convenience food makers, I feel like food trucks are the ones in the best position to affect real change. And yet they don't. They almost never embrace the whole local-sustainable movement. There is the rare truck that does, but it's very rare. Even when the food is purportedly healthier, as in vegetarian and vegan trucks (again, rare, but a handful do exist), you'll still find out-of-season vegetables smothered in sauces and oil.

You could argue that there isn't a demand for fresh, local, sustainable convenience food, but again, isn't that the whole problem? We're in a downward spiral of getting people hooked on nutritionally devoid convenience food. The change has to come from the top, not the consumers.

Of course, I don't think all food trucks should sell local-sustainable, healthy fare either. But, I don't think people should be going ga-ga over food trucks as a trend either. Seeing as food trucks are the most start-up like of the restaurant industry (and by "start-up like," I am alluding to the tech industry, where massive innovations come from start-up companies), they are the ones in position to shake up the convenience food scene.

I see people all the time treating food trucks like they are some wonderful new invention that they have to seek out and try. I guess I'm just really loathsome of the fact that people treat food trucks like they are somehow better than hot dog carts and other decades-old mobile food vendors just because the truck people have a "passion" that the working man pulling a weenie out of a tank of sweaty-smelling water seem to lack. Why isn't this passion aligning with other food movements, like getting more nutritious convenience food to people who need it?

I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this topic, and I would really like to hear more sides of the story from you in the comments. Please help me open up this conversation by sharing your thoughts below. Thanks!