The Whole Beast philosophy

Save money and reduce waste by buying your chickens whole.

Credit: Flickr / Luzbonita

Combatting waste by using the whole animal

What tips can your grandmother teach about cooking a chicken to save money and waste?

At the heart of sustainability lies waste management. Our generation, in Western cultures, is perhaps the most wasteful of all. We have been raised on a diet of instant gratification and disposability. We pat ourselves on the back for recycling our waste, but while recycling is less wasteful than manufacturing new products, the process of recycling is still energy intensive.

A far more effect approach is to reduce the amount of waste that we discard, especially in the kitchen. The concept of the cookbook The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson endeavours to reduce food-related waste and makes for sensible home economics.

I suggest starting off with something like chicken or fish, whose comparatively small sizes make for a convenient starting point for learning to use the whole beast.


VIDEO: Learn how to dissever a chicken


Basic chicken math

The cost of a whole, organic, medication-free chicken (from local, organic food delivery service spud!) comes to around $16. From this we can have several dinners, with leftover meat for lunch. Generally, I’ll split it into breast (dinner 1), whole thighs (dinner 2), wings and drumsticks (dinner 3), and a stock from the carcass (dinner 4, the basis for a delicious risotto). If you have any offal inside your carcass (this seems to happen less and less) it can make a tasty addition to your stock or, if you have livers, a delicious paté.

A quick run around my local supermarket would end up with me paying $16.43 just to buy the butchered, packaged slab of meat (which may or may be organic or medicated. Anyone know the official definition of “heritage”?), plus $3 for a supermarket-brand carton of chicken stock (and no paté).

The extra waste is another thing altogether. If we were to buy our chicken already dissevered from the supermarket, we would encumber ourselves, our bins and the city dump with four Styrofoam trays, four foot of saran wrap, and a one-litre tetra-pack carton. The extra (unseen) waste would be the chicken back and bones (the crux of a good stock) and the innards.


And why not the Whole Beet, too?

The Whole Beast philosophy can also be carried into the plant world. Try to buy your products in their most natural state, with the least packaging, and try to use as much of the plant as you can. Beet leaves make a great addition to a green salad, potato peels make fantastic home-baked chips, and vegetable scraps are a handy mirepoix to add to your chicken stock.


Storing and using your ‘waste’

Bones – Keep a sealable bag in your freezer to put your bones in. That way they’ll keep until you’re ready to make your stock.

Veggie scraps – I also have a bag in the freezer marked “veggies.” I throw in ends of zuchinni, peels, old herbs, anything that will give flavour and nutrients to my stock.

Fat – Fat, like bacon or chicken, renders naturally when you cook the meat. Keep it in a jar in your fridge and use it to add extra flavour to dishes. Its high smoke point also makes it more suitable than butter or some oils for many tasks.


What are your tips for reusing scraps and cutting down on waste in the kitchen?