“You can tell a fish head anything you want to,” sang Barnes and Barnes on their immortal 1979 hit Fish Heads. “They won’t answer. They can’t talk.”
In the same song they boast of taking a fish head out to the movies, and not having to pay for its ticket. It seems unlikely that though anyone would want to go on a date or share confidences with a chicken head, let alone write a song to it. Fish heads are disturbing enough, with their glassy, empty stare. But a chicken, even on a supermarket meat counter, has a reptilian menace which suggests that it’s about to return from the dead with all its chums and trigger a galline zombie apocalypse.
Chickens in the west are generally sold with head, feet and innards removed. As regular readers will know, I strongly believe that if you eat meat, there’s no point in being squeamish and sentimental about it. I deplore the trend to process food and conceal its real nature. It’s no wonder children are confused about where food comes from when they’re fed turkey dinosaurs. Nonetheless the bald, yellow heads are unsettling when you’re not used to them.
In our early, befuddled days in Beijing, I decided to alleviate our homesickness by making a traditional Sunday roast dinner. We picked out a plump, tasty-looking chicken, then my wife attempted, by means of sign language, to ask the butcher to cut off the head and feet. He took our chicken and methodically chopped it into tiny pieces, head, feet, giblets and all, scooped the resultant shambles into a bag and handed it to us. We ate roast beef instead.
These days I just take a cleaver, lop off the extremities myself and boil them up for stock. But I’m left wondering just what it is about chicken heads that’s so disturbing. The answer lies in evolution. Birds, scientists now say, are not descended from dinosaurs – they are dinosaurs. This adds another layer of irony to the idea of a turkey stegosaurus. It also means that the fastest animal alive is a flying carnivorous dinosaur, which preys on other dinosaurs by attacking them in mid-air. Who needs Jurassic Park?
Chicken heads are so useless that even chickens don’t need them. In 1945 a Colorado farmer decapitated a chicken for his dinner, and was amazed to find that it survived the process. Being an enterprising chap, he took “Mike the Headless Wonder Chicken” on tour, exhibiting him to huge crowds across the USA. (This was in the days before the internet, kids.)
But perhaps we should not be encouraging headless chickens. There are enough of them in positions of authority as it is…