Sunday, February 08, 2009

Brooklyn Birds

If the chicken at Franklin Avenue supermarkets ever looks a little freezer-burned, locals have an alternative: T & S Live Poultry on Classon between Dean and Pacific. The storefront slaughterhouse carries a wide variety of city-legal beasts and birds, stacked high in cages in the front room. The customers, primarily individuals as opposed to restaurants or their suppliers, choose their animals and have them weighed live up front before they are butchered and dressed in the back. The employee I talked to said that they moved a "good number" of birds every week, and that they'd been in business two years.

New York City was once the largest live poultry market in the United States, as noted by none other than Oliver Wendell Holmes in his majority opinion ruling against New Deal regulations in Schechter Poultry Corp. V. United States. (The "Sick Chicken Case," brought against a Brooklyn slaughterhouse, was one of several anti-regulatory rulings that led FDR to his slightly-less-than-democratic musings on whether or not the Supreme Court should be expanded to 13 justices.) However, operations like T & S are a relatively recent phenomenon: Dan Ackman's NYT article from 2000 on the subject notes that in 1980 there were just six live poultry markets in the city and only 20 in 1990. The author cites the tastes of new immigrant populations as the driving factor in the live-poultry resurgence--in 2000, there were 73 markets in NYC and numbers were rising, and a google search tonight turned up 24 in Brooklyn alone. Chickens are also making a comeback as long-term residents in NYC. The City Chicken Project will help you bring chickens into your neighborhood and trumpets them as sources of "social, economic, and environmental well-being." The folks over at the Walt L. Shamel/Dean North Community Garden have a coop full of laying birds at the back of their space right here in Crown Heights.

The markets are not without their share of controversy. The animal rights group United Poultry Concerns has voiced vehement opposition to the conditions in these slaughterhouses, which are regulated by the NY State Department of Agriculture. There have been outbreaks of disease at certain markets: in 1997, a strain of bird flu was found in the animals at 14 NYC sites. The markets are also notoriously odoriferous, especially in the summer months, which why they are often found nestled in amongst repair shops and warehouses and not along major commercial streets. Still, some markets have drawn fire from nearby residents, particularly in gentrifying areas.

Of course, the markets claim they are providing a fresh, honest alternative to the Meatrix-quality frozen bricks available to most Brooklynites. Do the birds taste better? A lone poster on Chowhound has posed the question, but so far no one has responded.

1 comment:

  1. I've lived in CH for a little over 3 years and make a point to not walk by that poultry place. The way the chickens are kept stacked in tiny cages (more than 1 to a cage) is pretty messed up. Not to mention that they'll leave the gate up in the middle of winter and summer with the birds about 5 feet away. I'm not some crazy animal rights nut who believes that no one should ever eat meat but do they have to make these chickens lives completely miserable before they're butchered?