Why I’m raising chickens Part 1: Itchy and scratchy

Ever since I’ve started telling people that I’m going to be raising chickens, they’ve had one question: Why?

The easy answer is that I thought it would be fun and make a good writing project.

But the truth is that the reason goes much, much deeper. It has to do with my growing concerns over the food I eat, what the Bible has to say about our diet, and a little boy in Uganda who has challenged me to stop taking my blessings for granted.

Let’s start with the food concerns.

Back a few years ago, I was dealing with some mild skin rashes that my doctor thought might be allergy related. The allergist did tests, and found I wasn’t allergic to any foods. But he did want me to try a special diet that eliminated some things that can often cause skin problems for people sensitive to allergens. (He described it as my allergy bucket being very shallow and therefore reacting to things other people normally wouldn’t. A little bit of an irritant can cause a reaction in me but not someone else.)

For six weeks, he wanted me to eliminate from my diet any artificial colors or flavors; Sodium Benzoate; BHT; TBHQ; BHA; Salicylates; MSG, nitrites, sulfites; and a few other things I’ve forgotten.

It’s part of something called the Feingold Diet that has been used to treat ADD/ADHA, and while there’s debate about whether or not it works for hyper kids, it does help people with skin problems.

The doctor told me that it might be impossible to eliminate everything – one of the things I’d have to stop ingesting was tea; not gonna happen – but that the more I could eliminate, the better. At the end of six weeks, I could try to add things back in and see if I had any skin reactions.

So I started reading labels, and to my horror realized that just about everything I ate had some sort of artificial color or flavoring, sodium benzoate, or BHT or TBHQ.

Seriously, it’s in almost everything we eat. Don’t believe me? Go look at the labels in your pantry. I’ll wait.

Crazy, isn’t it?

It got me thinking: what the heck are those artificial colors and flavors made from, and why does my food need all of those preservatives? I made a decision to try from then on to eat as little as possible any foods that contained anything artificial.

It’s not been easy. Almost all processed foods contain at least one thing from that list; usually a lot more. But eliminating them from my diet definitely helped my skin rashes. And I lost 5 pounds right away.

That’s not to say that I don’t ever eat food with those ingredients any more; sometimes you just can’t help it. But I have cut way, way back on them.

And that’s what got me started thinking about food, and how much of what we eat is really not food, but artificial chemicals and additives. Is the convenience of processed food really worth the health risks of putting chemicals into our bodies? Call me crazy (and most people do) I just can’t help but be concerned.

Add to that the realization that much of our food doesn’t even come from America – those cute little mandarin oranges I add to my salad? All of them come from China. Do I really want my food to travel half way around the world, and have to be preserved in order to do so? I mean, really, the Chinese have had more than a few problems with food safety, both human and animal, in the past few years.

All of that adds up to one thing: eating processed food probably isn’t worth the risk (or the itch).

Which leads to the second reason for chickens: “Holy Cow.”

(Stay tuned for Part 2)

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