Entertainment TV Matthew Evans explores the dark side of Australia’s love of chicken

Matthew Evans explores the dark side of Australia’s love of chicken

Chef Matthew Evans has some hard truths for Aussies about their favourite food.
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Foodie-turned-farmer Matthew Evans and two big butchers struggle to hoist a supermarket trolley full of meat onto hooks in an abattoir to illustrate the 90 kilograms of meat that, on average, Australians eat every year.

In the trolley there’s 7kgs of lamb, 20kgs of pork, 23 kgs of beef and a rather massive 42kgs of chicken – well ahead of the OECD average of 34kgs a year.

It’s all part of new series, For the Love of Meat, which premiered on SBS on Thursday night with an investigation into our chicken obsession.

The series is designed to make us think about the impact eating this amount of meat has on the animals – beyond the obvious.

Australians are eating a huge amount more meat – second only in the world to the US – than they ever used to because it is so much cheaper.

Chicken used to be a special treat and people used to eat every bit of animals, including the liver, stomach lining, heart, kidneys, pigs trotters and so on.

What this fascinating series tracks is how big business has turned old farming habits into a massive, lucrative industry where euphemistically labelled “intensive” farming means we can buy a chook for next to nothing.

And we clearly aren’t worried about what the animals endure to become fat enough to kill within the required 35 days to turn a profit – six hundred million chickens were sold last year alone.

It’s disappointing the “intensive” chicken farming industry body took two months to decide they wouldn’t be part of this series.

I’m not surprised, mind you, because it’s hard to justify their position in a series that advocates the polar opposite to their business model.

The average amount of XXX an Australian eats in a year.
The average amount of meat an Australian eats in a year.

Evans was forced to have a go at replicating what the factories do on his farm in Tasmania and, while it was flawed as an experiment, it did confirm what he advocates – that life in an “intensive” chook farm isn’t fun for the animals.

Mercifully, in the first episode Evans didn’t bang on at the audience to give up chicken – merely urging them to consider buying birds that have been bred well, with space, fresh air, good food and a longer life span.

The chicken burger came in some confronting wrapping.
The chicken burger came in some confronting wrapping.

Given the costs of raising chickens like that are higher, Evans suggested we eat less and pay more.

To prove Australians care about what they’re eating when they’re forced to confront its origins, Evans handed out free fast food chicken burgers.

The burgers came wrapped in a disturbing A4-sized photo of the chicken, bred for consumption, living in a space the same size as the sheet of paper. After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

One woman broke down in tears after seeing the disturbing image.

This woman was so shocked by the treatment of chickens she started crying.
This woman was so shocked by the treatment of chickens she started crying.

Armed with a video showing reactions to that photo, Evans and an advertising agency scored a meeting with Steven Marks, founder of Australia’s fastest growing restaurant chain, Guzman y Gomez, to plead their case.

We’re supposed to wait until episode two to find out if they came on board but, before the show went to air, Guzman y Gomez went public with its decision to go free range and absorb the cost.

So a win for Matthew Evans and, more importantly, Australia’s chooks.

Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a vegetarian and never will be.

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