Chicken

Anna and I are leading the discussion on this book this week, so I really tried to get into this book. But it was kind of tough– mostly because some of the descriptions of the labor are really gruesome. From the inhumane treatment of the birds from start to finish and into the descriptions of the horror of working the lines, this book gave a really deep look into just how bad the chicken industry has become.

Having worked in the restaurant industry, I was somewhat aware of the abuses that chicken farming entails. You can’t process a 50 lb case of chicken breasts in an afternoon without thinking about how many birds it took to fill that plastic-lined box, or notice how large the individual breasts are for a small bird, or have the dangers of salmonella and listeria drilled into you from every angle. But reading first-hand accounts of the body-breaking labor, purposeful mismanagement, human trafficking, environmental violations, and union-busting really hit home how terrible the industry has become in the last few decades.

I was particularly struck by the evolution of the chicken farm from a very meager means to supplement income into a massive monocrop-style industry. It’s inconceivable to me that there was a time when chicken wasn’t synonymous with “health” food as a low-fat, high-protein option, while simultaneously being overrepresented in fast food markets. “Added-value” products are everywhere, and it just doesn’t seem sustainable for the market to be so saturated with new products– but that’s the nature of the industry. If they want to keep ahead and keep making profits, they need to innovate and put something new in front of consumers.

The sections on horizontal vs vertical integrations were also fascinating to me. It seems like each major company, once they got a foothold in a growing market, just proceeded to gobble up every other competitor. I had no idea that the organic or Kosher chicken brands my parents buy at Wegmans was owned by the very same “value” brand I buy at Walmart. It was kind of embarrassing and shameful– like there’s no real concept of “choice” or free market, if there’s basically a monopoly on chicken now. Americans put a lot of stock in the idea of “voting with your dollars” when it comes to ethics and moral consumer choices, but it hardly makes a difference in today’s market.

I’m looking forward to talking about the book this week. I hope we can have some interesting discussions!

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