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Product Review: First Fresh Food's Chicken Sausage

I say this with utmost sincerity: I love product reviews. When a company reaches out to me with their food, asking for my time and opinion, I take it seriously. I take it scientifically. My curiosity knows no bounds, and sometimes that poses challenges to a marketing agency. But I need to state here and now that curiosity and questioning is never initiated with malice. I ask questions because I believe in the currency of information, the value of knowledge.

First Fresh Foods sent me a case of their new chicken sausages, both the mild Italian and the breakfast links. Their CEO’s wife was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease and as such the company is meticulous in maintaining their gluten free status. Brava! I love companies that take cross contamination seriously, I appreciate food business that is born from personal history. 

The sausages taste great. Their collagen casings brown easily and provide enough snap to satisfy this sausage enthusiast. I used the mild Italian in a traditional pasta setting and then I went abroad and started tossing it in my wok for Chinese inspired dishes. It fit in nicely no matter the surroundings. And the breakfast links are a terrific alternative to pork sausage. The company touts, both on the packaging and on their website, how much healthier chicken sausage is for you than pork, and they’re right. This has a much lower fat content.

But my review doesn’t and cannot stop with taste and nutritional content. As a food historian and scientist I am endlessly intrigued by how we raise our meat, how we slaughter it, how we treat the animals that we decide to eat. In an effort to get straight to the point, I emailed the company and their marketing team the following questions:

  • How old are the chickens when they’re brought to slaughter?
  • What kind of feed is used to raise the chickens?
  • What does the chicken farm look like? Are the chickens raised in pens or grazing the grounds? A mixture of both?
  • Their website mentions “Old World traditions of flavorful European sausage,” could you elaborate on that sentiment? What traditions are most passionate about? 

I was curious whether the company was using chickens that had been selectively bred to mature in a matter of a few months, or if they were using a heritage breed of chicken that takes a bit longer to put on weight. I wanted to know if these chickens were living and grazing on an open farm, or if they merely had access to some open space while being confined to an industrial barn. As a cook, the phrase “old world traditions of flavorful European sausage” intrigued me, I wondered if they could explain any of those traditions to me.

Their marketing team wrote back with terse answers, a sign of thin ice. I was not looking to uncover any wrongdoing on the company’s part, I merely wanted to know how they operated. I wanted to know what was important to the sausage makers. Here are their answers:

  • How old are the chickens when they’re brought to slaughter?
    • Average.
  • What kind of feed is used to raise the chickens?
    • Since we source our raw materials from multiple suppliers, our feeds are typically proprietary.
  • What does the chicken farm look like? Are the chickens raised in pens or grazing the grounds? A mixture of both?
    • Mixture of both.
  • Their website mentions “Old World traditions of flavorful European sausage,” could you elaborate on that sentiment? What traditions are most passionate about? 
    • We have both Eastern and Western European sausage formulas.

I am unimpressed with these answers. 

Telling me that the chickens are of an “average” age when brought to slaughter leads me to believe that the farm is using quick-maturing breeds, the kind of chicken that puts on so much weight so quickly that it can barely walk, let alone stand. Their “typically proprietary” feed allows me to imagine that the chickens are being fed mostly corn byproducts that are fortified with amino acids and other vitamins. This is not natural chicken feed, this is part of the American Industrial Farming complex. Telling me that the chickens have access to a “mixture of both” pens and grazing ground probably means that the chickens are raised in an industrial barn and can go outside if they want to. But considering the farm likely raises chickens that can barely walk, I doubt the birds take much time for a midday stroll in the sun. “We have both Eastern and Western European sausage formulas” is such a vague statement that I am not sure if the company even knows that it’s website touts these traditions as part of their recipe. I am a cook, and I am a historian. When I ask about your traditions I expect information, not misdirection.

I was not looking to uncover ill-intentioned farming, but when a marketing agency provides answers like that then I have to fill in the blanks myself. If First Fresh Farms is indeed farming as I have imagined, that’s fine. Own up to it! When I ask questions about your practices, tell me the truth! You only do yourself a disservice to skirt the issue. It makes a company seem ashamed and afraid of their own standards. 

Own your actions.

 

Here are my final thoughts:
If the provenance of your food is of little consequence to you, and you are looking for a certified gluten-free product that tastes great, then First Fresh Foods is producing sausages that will thrill you. They are delicious.

However, if you prize information over lip-service, if you care about how your meat is raised, then this might not be the best brand for you. They won’t answer my questions candidly, and that leaves me relying on my historical knowledge of American farming practices to provide information to my readers.