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Which are you the 'kienyeji' chicken or the farm fresh one?

Monday, June 11, 2012 - 00:00 -- DR. RICHARD AYAH
Maziwa Market
Demolition. A chicken trader at maziwa market along jogoo rd ponders his next move after the market was demolished by the city council.photo-philip kamakya

Chicken, is what many who wish to be healthy, eat. When people first begin to think about eating healthy, on the path to becoming vegetarian or even vegan, they start off with eating chicken. Sometimes fish but mainly chicken. So red meat, essentially beef, goat or mutton, is progressively struck off the menu. Not a bad thing especially if the meat is the processed kind. This includes meat that is preserved by smoking, salting, curing or adding some kind of preservative. The problem with red meat is that studies have shown that excess daily consumption, now defined as more than 100 grams a day per person is associated with increased risk of heart disease. For processed red meat, eating more than 50 grams a day is associated with a 42 per cent higher risk of heart disease and 19 per cent risk of developing diabetes. So is chicken the way to go? The answer as always is that it depends.

Two types of chicken exist is our vocabulary. ‘Kienyeji’ chicken and farmed chicken- which goes by various brand names. The true ‘Kienyeji’, if male is a tough bird. Taking about three years to develop to full maturity it stands as tall as a small goat. Crows at the crack of dawn and struts around the compound like a king. When one is finally served on the table you will know that it must be a special occasion. Because it takes about a day to cook it. And that morning, if you were up early enough you would have missed the cock crow. Such is the significance. The meat of a ‘kienyeji’ is dark, the drumstick bone long, lean meat, some say full of flavour. After all, this is a chicken that roams the earth; eating fresh protein and grass, a natural, balanced diet. As part of its life it does battle with hawks in the sky proudly protecting his offspring. In a sense when you eat a ‘kienyeji’ you are eating tradition, and culture.

More common today is the farm fresh chicken. It lives indoors all its life. Starts off as an egg, hatching under artificial light, then as part of possibly thousands of other similar chicks eating precisely programmed daily portions of scientifically prepared balance food and water. The long sentence summarises its life. Because they live in fairly cramped quarters, disease prevention is paramount, so many are fed antibiotics. A life of just eating, minimal conversation, then a sip of water and more food, makes them grow rapidly. Unlike the ‘kienyeji’ they never have stories to tell. Even when we eat them we don’t remember much of the meal. After all they look almost identical and do not meet other animals unless there is some kind of accident. Within six weeks they weigh more than 1.5 kg, at which point they are slaughtered for the table. Soft succulent they are excellent fried. They cook easily within a short time period.

In a way, the two contrasting lifestyles of the different types of chicken mirror human life. There are people who are healthy live a balance life, eat just enough according to what there body needs and they let the world know that they are part of the world. Then there are others, actually most of us, who wake up in the morning in this tiny space, look across and see someone else just like them. They are comfortable with life; food is present, shelter and warmth are there, so the question is how come they are not so healthy? Some live the life during the day then try to go to the gym at some point in the week. Or once or twice a week declare that they are eating healthy. The problem is that it never seems to be enough. As they grow older, visits to the doctor become more frequent. Is there a possible solution?

Possibly. It involves making a big decision and sticking to it. Nice unhealthy food tastes nice. So if it is around you, eventually you will eat it. And you will eat more than is good for you. A marginal decision is to say “let me just have a small bite of…it won’t do any harm and tomorrow I will make it up.” Except that you really never do. Eventually society will catch up to the fact that we have many unhealthy foods that should just not exist because they predispose to disease, just like tobacco does. In the meantime you have to protect yourself as an individual and avoid being locked into a particular diet, like the farm fresh chicken, which we know does not live too long.