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Backyard Chickens? No Thanks.

At a recent Sunday dinner at a friend's home in Bexley, our normal chatter about work and family was interrupted by the squawking and pecking of chickens. My friend's neighbors are one of four families in Bexley that can legally keep chickens on their property. During dinner, the neighbors were outside, dressed in knee-high boots and Carhartt jackets, watching the animals as though they were the cast of a hit TV show. The chicken debate is heated one in my hometown of Bexley and other hometowns in central Ohio. One person has even founded the Westerville Area Chicken Keepers Society. And a number of websites and blogs have popped up to teach these wannabe urban farmers how to successfully keep chickens. My friends have handled having chickens as neighbors with grace, but I'm not sure I could do the same. It's bad enough living in an apartment building, where my upstairs neighbors have a rambunctious puppy and no carpeting to muffle the barking. I don't want to walk outside each day and see chickens, and I don't want to wake up every morning to a rooster's crow. Not only can chickens and roosters be noisy and time-consuming pets, they're dirty and they smell. And according to a number of studies, chicken coops are responsible for some bed-bug infestations. It also seems as though suburban chicken farming is just another culinary fad for well-to-do city slickers. Raising chickens is the new "in" thing if you've got the money and time. But I remain conflicted. In recent months, I have become much more cognizant of where my food comes from and what I'm using to fuel my body. I do applaud people taking a stronger interest in how their meat and eggs are raised. It would be great to wake up on a Saturday morning and know exactly when and where the eggs in my omelet were produced. Just like growing a crop of tomatoes or peppers, knowing where your food comes from is good for both the mind and the body. In this day of overly processed fast food, it's important to take an active interest in what you're eating. There's no way of knowing what the chemicals and additives in today's food are going to do to your body tomorrow. All this said, I will never own a chicken - and I hope my neighbors won't either. I'm a vegetarian, I'm not a huge fan of eggs and, at the end of it all, I think chickens are just plain ugly. There. I said it. As long as chickens don't become "man's best friend," I hope I only have to handle my upstairs neighbor's cute, albeit noisy, puppy - instead I'll support local, non-urban organic farmers for my very limited poultry needs. WOSU commentator Gail Martineau is an editor with City Scene magazine.