Let me be very clear about this. Chickens—the dead kind that await preparation for the table—are just chickens. They may be tough or tender, free range and organic, or raised in a huge, commercial poultry house, in which case you might say they were fowl. Get it? Fowl? They may be served up as haut cuisine or deep fried to a fare-thee-well. But they are just chickens.
Allow me to digress a moment. I spend a couple of weeks each summer in NYC at American Ballet Theatre for ballet teacher training. Although I was a little terrified the first time I did this in 2009—traveling alone to the city, training in the company of icons at the epicenter of the ballet world, in general being a fish out of water—I have grown to love going there. It wears me out, to be sure; the city has a palpable energy that can be fatiguing if you are not accustomed to it, and I am emphatically not. But I find the creative shot in the arm from that experience essential to teaching ballet well.
I have also grown to enjoy the experience of pretending to be a New Yorker for a couple of weeks each year. I stay in a tiny apartment that is walking distance to ballet school and try to embrace the lifestyle. My first summer there I learned how to shop smart—how to stretch my grocery dollars, to plan meals and examine portion and package sizes and think about the distance I had to walk to schlep everything home, how much waste I would produce and the consequences of that when it came time to deal with trash and recycling in my apartment building. It is a little like being in college again and I do not mind it one bit; in fact, the whole process has evolved into an enjoyable challenge to see just how frugal I can be. And now I am practicing that same frugality of necessity each and every day because my uncertain finances dictate that I must. Until I am actually forced to live under a bridge, it is no big deal to me.
Vermonters are practiced at frugality, and I admire the heck out of them for it. This is not a political or ecological statement. It has nothing to do with my opinions about stewardship of the planet, or climate change, or world peace. It is just an observation about the kind of stalwart people in whose company I now find myself. And you would probably expect folks who are accustomed to dealing with New England winters to be both stalwart and frugal. After all, when you’ve got to haul your trash to the dump in the freezing cold and deep snow, where you pay three bucks to dispose of a single bag, you are going to plan those trips wisely and recycle as much stuff as you can.
This resourcefulness should in no way be mistaken for a lack of sophistication. Several folks from my own little community recently knocked my socks off during a wine tasting at the local general store. (Yep, you can buy excellent wine at the general store right around the corner; there is an impressive selection of bottles there and the store owner prides herself on remembering the individual preferences of her returning customers.) I enjoyed listening to them speaking wine-ish—something I have never done well—swirling the juice around in the glass, making comments about the legs, and the nose, and all that. I also enjoyed the collision of the sophisticated language with the trappings of Vermont winter (think Elmer Fudd hat). The whole business endears them to me.
Which brings me back to cuisine and chickens in particular. Frugality notwithstanding, Vermont has amazing food. Of course there is the proverbial cheese and maple syrup here. And King Arthur Flour, which is literally right down the road from me. But the array of eating-out possibilities is dizzying, from roadside dives with gluten-free menus to upscale places with creative, artfully prepared food and a price tag to match. I am certain that there are food snobs somewhere in Vermont, as there are in NYC, and back in Tennessee. I would not use the word snob, though, to describe what I have observed thus far of Vermonters in general; these people appear not to take themselves too seriously. We should all learn from that.
Recently when I was poking around to see what was going on at a particular upscale Tennessee eatery whose success or failure has a real and material affect on my financial solvency, I laughed out loud (yes, really) when I saw this comment on its social networking page:
We have about two dozen of these compelling <Farm X> chickens.
Compelling? Chickens? Um, okay. If it sells more chickens, knock yourself out, and then send me a check so I can buy myself an Elmer Fudd hat. Or better yet, pay my utility bill. Or buy some chicken.
But not the compelling kind, please. Just the plain, frugal, stalwart Vermont kind will do for me.