This book seemed to cover almost every conceivable aspect of the modern chicken. Striffle provides the reader with an introduction narrative to establish which historical developments occurred that led to the development of America’s chicken as we know it today. WWII and its subsequent hardships provided American businessmen with the perfect avenue to sweep in and market the chicken as a saving grace, making it more affordable and accessible. Unfortunately, with this capitalization, American farmers were quickly out-bought by the likes of Perdue and Tyson, as Striffler goes on to discuss. This particular part of the chicken narrative struck me as familiar because I noted a bit of a similarity between this concept and the Taste of a Place concept that saw local farms in Vermont start to struggle and go out of business due to the branding of food and consumers lack of awareness and care as to where their food comes from. This is evident in Striffler’s book in the sense that in its beginning, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, American consumers seemed to value quality over quantity. But as chicken became more marketable and in different forms, quick and easy access became the priority and consumers placed little value on the maintenance of the chicken and more on its availability. This could be said about many different types of food in America as we saw last week with the struggle of local farms.
In terms of cooking with chicken, it is quite marketable because of its versatility. The ability for chicken to be cooked in a multitude of different ways and flavors offer more variety and choice than other meats. The health benefits of white meat also appealed to consumers in the 20th century and can arguably be one of the main reasons it is still so popular. Red meat has, as Striffler said, been accredited with basically every negative health effect, so chickens were able to be market to health-conscious consumers on a large scale. Of course, as Striffler makes a point of mentioning throughout the book, this is only really if cooked correctly. Unfortunately more so than ever, processed and inauthentic chicken is the highest percentage of consumption in many Americans diets, no doubt due to the development of the infamous McNugget and other “Fast Chicken” fads discussed in the book. Whereas in the early 20th century chicken was cultivated for sustenance on a domestic level, it evolved with the industrialization of farming and preserving of foods to become a “cash crop” of sorts to major restaurant chains and grocery stores. The American economy saw fit to sacrifice health for money with the commercial production of processed chicken.
One last central theme of the book that stood out to me was the racial component of chicken “production” (raising, butchering, marketing). I was completely unaware of the plant’s reliance on often times undocumented Mexican immigrants to successfully run their businesses without being able to ask questions. This no doubt aides in meat packaging plants and chicken farms (the industrial ones, not local, ethic farmers of course) being able to keep their horrid practices in business and profiting from the mistreatment of animals and employees. This ideology should have been clear from Perdue’s racially motivated campaign towards Latinos with his self-proclamation of being the “Chiquita of chicken.” While there is so much more that this book uncovers, I felt these to be the over arching themes of the book and much like the film Supersize Me, I feel like this is an eye-opening and gut-wrenching, but much needed, piece of narrative that would be instrumental in educating the public.