Chicken

In Chicken, the author explains the many troublesome aspects of the poultry industry, beginning with the introduction of the modern chicken-industry that began after WW2 and the consumer producer relationships that formed through the commercialization of chicken products. The book is divided into two sections, “A New Bird” and “A New Worker”, both of which discuss how the animals and workers are abused and taken advantage of. In the first section, the author, Steve Striffler, explores how chicken grew in popularity following the beef and pork rationing caused by the war and producers had to find ways to increase sales which led to finding new ways to manufacture the food. Processed chicken, mostly in the form of the McNugget, helped the poultry industry really take off in the 1980s. Although the chicken industry continued to flourish, the cost to feed and house the birds proved to be cost burdening. Stiffler draws on the growth of the chicken industry from Delmarva to the Midwest to explain the growth and transportation methods of chicken across the US and how the introduction of the integrated system led to the demise of ethical business practices. Farmers especially carried the most financial burden, as they found themselves in debt to big name corporations such as Tyson. These big-name corps such as Tyson and Holly Farms fought with each other until Tyson came up on top as one of the largest integrated chicken product producers in the US. Unfair labor practices ran rampant wit this corporations, which led to strikes from employees and the corps cutting ties with growers. Farmers knew that once they had begun working for these businesses, they were practically slaves to them.

As the chickens suffered physical abuse, so did the workers within the factories. In section two of Chicken, “A New Worker”, Striffler reports on the workers experiences as well as his own personal experience within the poultry factories. Most workers within the plant are immigrant workers from Mexico and South America, with several others from Asian countries. Many workers are illegal immigrants who came to America in search of money and the opportunity of a better life for themselves and their families. Striffler explains that these workers take these jobs, mainly in the South, because unlike farming, chicken production is not seasonal and therefore workers can stay in the area year-round for work. Since many workers are not US citizens, their boss could take advantage of them and refuse them bathroom breaks and enforce smaller wages by threatening deportation. The physical abuse these workers experienced left them with physical impairments from performing the same motions for hours a day. The hygiene and safety conditions in these factories were equally horrendous, with workers getting maimed and electrocuted while the chicken products were not properly cleaned, and on multiple occasions led to consumers becoming ill and sometimes dying from tainted chicken.

In the last subsection of the book, the author introduced the “Friendly Chicken” idea, which would be where chickens are economically and organically produced. This would include making chickens free-range and hormone free, and their growers are not slaves to big companies. The benefits of this practice include safer, cleaner food, higher paid laborers, and fair treatment of growers. With this idea, the cost of chicken would not change dramatically, and chickens could be genetically enhanced to no longer need antibiotics or hormones to grow faster and product more eat.

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