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Woman crusades to get her 2 pounds of chicken flesh out of Publix

Janet Feldman did not need four dozen rotisserie chickens. Who among us does?

But the 57-year-old Davie woman who makes outfits for strippers is not someone who minds her own business when she discovers a wrong. If society's moral fabric is twisted, she irons it smooth.

"When I see a wrong," she says, "I right the wrong."

The day she took all the chickens, she was trying to prove a point. Trying to look out for the little guy. She was on a mission.

So from 8 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. on a workday not long ago, she drove from Publix to Publix in South Florida — 11 stores in all — and walked out with a total of 47 free delicious spit-roasted chickens.

"If my mother was alive … dear God," she said. "This is not what she wanted for me."

Maybe we should fly back a little.

About a year ago, Feldman was cooking a meal for the animals she rescues when she noticed the rotisserie chickens she bought from her neighborhood Publix were awful scrawny.

Curious, she thought.

So on a subsequent trip to the market, she eyeballed a skinny bird, then nonchalantly took it to the produce department and put it on the scale. As suspected, the chicken weighed in at less than two pounds, contrary to what the label suggests: two pounds "minimum."

She bought the bird — $7.59 — then summoned the big wigs and leaned on something called "The Publix Promise." That's a guarantee that if the scanned price of an item exceeds the shelf or advertised price, the customer gets the product for free.

Feldman left with a free chicken.

Then she did it again.

Then again.

She got very, very good at identifying underweight chickens.

"I could do it blindfolded," she says.

One hundred free chickens.

Two hundred free chickens.

Her rescue animals were eating well.

She wasn't being sneaky. She always brought it to the attention of a manager. She says she even called corporate, in Lakeland. Someone promised to fix the prices. Someone connected her with a distributor who said winter storms up north had knocked weight off the flock. If birds are cold, they eat less.

But overall, Publix seemed fine parting with the puny poultry, Feldman says.

"I think they thought I would go away," she says. "I could've gone the rest of my life getting free chicken."

She was kind of enjoying it for a little while, until she saw an elderly couple in line … with a rotisserie chicken. She imagined them on food stamps or on a fixed income. She imagined people like them at 1,077 Publix stores not getting their money's worth. That's when she got mad. If their bird was under two pounds, these poor old people were getting a raw deal.

She needed to do something big. Something newsworthy.

"What do you think of this idea?" she asked her friend.

The next day, she got her first free chickens a little past 8 a.m. Then she just rode the Chicken Train to Crazy Town.

Forty-seven free chickens later, she called the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the news was out.

Publix says it has corrected the problem. Spokesman Brian West said corporate wasn't aware of the issue until recently. He confirmed that employees have been instructed to weigh birds that seem underweight and Publix will price them appropriately or use them in other deli recipes. Your correspondent conducted a spot check in Tampa and St. Petersburg Monday and found no underweight birds.

You can bet that Janet Feldman will hold the company to its promise.

"You can't ever stay silent," she says. "Everybody's got to speak up, even if it's about chickens."

What's next for the woman who got more than 300 free chickens in 11 months?

There's a whale that has lived in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium for 43 years, she says.

Maybe it's the next project.

"Free Lolita," Feldman says.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@tampabay.com.

Woman crusades to get her 2 pounds of chicken flesh out of Publix 04/29/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 11:20am]
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