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Chickens are friends for some people, dinner for others. Sometimes both.
But one animal rights group feels that the name of a rural road in the Treasure Valley isn’t kind to poultry.
PETA sent out a news release Wednesday morning alerting Idaho media that it has written a letter to Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas to ask for a change to the street name Chicken Dinner Road. However, Caldwell city street maps don’t include Chicken Dinner Road, which is located in rural Canyon County.
“Just like dogs, cats, and human beings, chickens feel pain and fear and value their own lives,” said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in the letter.
She wants the mayor to change the name of the road to “one that celebrates chickens as individuals, not as beings to kill, chop up, and label as ‘dinner.’ ”
Susan Miller, the Caldwell mayor’s assistant, told the Statesman that the mayor was in a meeting. She said she wasn’t sure whether he’d be issuing a response to PETA’s request.
In the letter, dated July 3, Reiman said she’s not trying to “ruffle any feathers,” adding that words matter and “have the power to change lives.”
The way the industry treats chickens is inhumane, she said, because they are “confined to crowded, filthy sheds with tens of thousands of other birds, where disease, smothering, and heart attacks are common.”
It doesn’t get any better from there, she said in her letter.
“Then they are violently crammed onto transport trucks for shipment to the slaughterhouse, where they’re shackled and hung upside down, their throats are cut, and they’re immersed in scalding-hot feather-removal tanks — often while they’re still conscious,” Reiman wrote.
Changing the name of Chicken Dinner Road would show compassion to chickens and respect for other species, she said. She said PETA would help pay for replacing the sign.
Joe Decker, a spokesman for Canyon County, said the county has heard from a handful of residents who grew up there and don’t want the name to be changed. He said county commissioners were in meetings all morning, and he’s skeptical that they would change the name “based on a letter from PETA.”
A road name change would be handled by the county commissioners, as long as the road isn’t in Caldwell’s area of impact, Decker said via email.
“ It would require a public hearing and we would have to notify all property owners having frontage on the affected road at least 30 days before the public hearing,” Decker said. “An application and fee are also required for an unincorporated county road name change.”
Why is Chicken Dinner Road named that?
How the name of the road came to be — it used to be called Lane 12 — is a story in and of itself.
The tale has many versions, each with devotees, according to previous Idaho Statesman reporting.
Those competing accounts initially caused Caldwell librarian Elaine Leppert in 2018 to respond to a Chicken Dinner query by saying, “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. I wouldn’t touch it with a chicken leg.”
But she relented. The story’s too rich to stay quiet, and its central facts are accepted by most: The titular chicken dinner was prepared in the 1930s by Laura Lamb, who lived along the then-rutted road. Other facts are less certain.
The most popular account has Lamb preparing her famous fried chicken for then-Gov. C. Ben Ross, a family friend, and asking him his opinion of the rough road he’d had to travel to reach her home. Ross told Lamb that if she could get the county to grade the road, he’d get it oiled. She did, then he did.
“I’ve heard it was a commissioner; I’ve heard it was the governor,” Leppert said. “My father said it was a commissioner.”
That last version carries some credibility, since county commissioners are more likely than a governor to hear a plea for improving a county road. Then again, Leppert acknowledged, a governor does have clout.
According to some versions, the street name first appeared on cardboard “chicken dinner” signs placed along the route to direct the governor — or commissioner — to his supper. After the road was oiled, vandals supposedly wrote “Lamb’s Chicken Dinner Avenue” on its freshly oiled surface in bright yellow letters. The name was catchy, so it stuck.
If the name of the road was ever changed, other aspects of Idaho life may be affected.
Houston Vineyards, which is located at 16473 Chicken Dinner Road, celebrates the name through its Chicken Dinner wine series.
“The naming of our Chicken Dinner wines celebrates and plays off a classic Southern Idaho tale — the story behind one of the most curious road names around,” Huston states on its website.
Chicken Dinner Road is also the name of an Idaho bluegrass band out of Middleton founded in 2007.