It’s nice to have cooked chicken to add to a salad, or to make quesadillas, or all kinds of things. Leftover chicken works, but we don’t always have any.
So any number of companies have rushed to supply this “need” with 6- to 9- ounce packages of cooked chicken strips.You can even get them cooked and seasoned in various ways.
The last time I went grocery shopping, I looked at three different brands. Prices ranged from $4.29 to $7.49 a package, but no two of them offered the same size package. The only meaningful comparison is cost per weight.
The shelf labels showed a range of $0.666 to $0.936 per ounce. That works out to a range of $10.656 to $14.976 per pound. Meanwhile, a 2.5 pound package of raw skinless, boneless breasts in the freezer section cost $10.99, or $4.396 per pound.
In other words, you can buy a package of about six breasts, pop them in the oven at 350˚ for an hour, cut them into whatever size pieces you want, and freeze them for less than half the price of buying cooked strips.
And back when I was actually buying the strips, I nearly always had to cut them into smaller pieces before I could use them in a recipe.
What are the other costs of cooking it yourself?
Of course, the difference in the amount you pay to the grocery store doesn’t account for everything. If you cook and cut the chicken yourself, you need to add the cost of an hour of running the oven and some of your time.
Here are your additional costs (including your time):
- Retrieve a suitable pan (say a 9 x 13 inch cake pan or casserole dish so you can lay the breasts in a single layer)
- Put the chicken in the pan and the pan in the oven. (Don’t preheat the oven, by the way, and don’t count the hour it takes to cook as part of your time spent. You’ll do something else during that time.)
- Discard (recycle, if possible) the plastic bag the chicken came in.
- Take the cooked chicken out of the oven and move the chicken to a rack where it can drain and cool.
- Cut the chicken.
- Transfer the cut chicken to a cookie sheet or something and put it in the freezer (after all, you don’t want all the chicken to freeze into a single blob that you have to work to break apart later.)
- After a while, transfer the chicken to a heavy-duty freezer bag (which you also had to buy).
- Wash the pan, knife, cutting board, rack, cookie sheet, and whatever else you used and put them away.
That’s a lot of steps. But what do you pay for if you let Tyson or Perdue or some other company do it for you?
The cost of convenience
- Obviously, someone else does the cooking, cutting, and packaging. You’re paying for that labor.
- They didn’t get a knife out of a drawer and cut by hand. They operated a cutting machine, which has its own costs for operation and maintenance. That includes not only someone else’s labor, but also electricity, lubricating oil, etc.
- Five packages of cooked chicken means five cardboard boxes, likely as not with a cellophane window, the ink on the boxes, and five plastic inner linings. You can recycle the cardboard, but not necessarily the plastic.
- Of course, that counts only what you take home with you. The factory packs the individual packages into cartons and stacks the cartons on a wooden pallet. Then it encases the entire pallet in more plastic, all of which the store discards.
- You can’t go to the factory to buy the chicken. From the factory it goes (by refrigerated airplane and/or truck) to at least one warehouse—probably more—before it arrives at your store.
- Meanwhile, you’re paying more labor costs for the truck drivers, the people who load and unload the trucks, the people who work in the warehouses, and of course, the people who work at the store.
- You are also paying for the diesel fuel for the trucks, power for all the fork lifts, and electricity for all the various refrigerators—plus the costs of maintenance.
- Cooked chicken is perishable. Unless you cook for a fairly large family or you put most of it directly into the freezer, you very likely made five trips to the store. And if you don’t take your own cloth bags, you have brought home plastic bags in the process.
Have I counted everything? Maybe I left something out. That list certainly justifies why the five packages of cooked chicken cost more than double the one package of uncooked chicken.
The uncooked chicken has some of the same associated costs, but not all of them. It requires less processing, less packaging, and therefore less energy.
Hardly anyone in this country has any idea how to compute a carbon footprint. I certainly don’t.
But at least I can see that the chicken we pay someone else to cook creates more trash (much of it made from oil) and uses more fuel (with all of the combustion by-products going into the air we breathe) than when we cook the same amount of chicken for the same purposes at home.
Of course all the brands offer different varieties: roasted vs grilled, for example. Or with or without southwest or some other seasoning. So? We can cook and season it any way we want at home.
Is this small convenience really worth it, either in money or environmental cost?
“The Cost of Convenience” is an occasional series in this blog. Read the other posts!