How Chickens Became Like Smartphones

If you eat chicken, or are at all curious about the utter insanity that is the modern American (and global) food system, you need to read this article. It's an incredibly thoughtful and well-researched account of how a mind-boggling 90% of the 23 billion chickens (also mind-boggling) eaten every year come from only one of two breeds. In it, Michael Scaturro tells the fascinating story of how the hell this happened, and what it might mean for the future of food. Here's the setup (just a taste); the rest is below.

In February 1948, 40 farmers from around the U.S. put 720 chicken eggs on planes and trains and sent them to a small town near Washington, D.C., to be part of a contest.

Once the eggs arrived in Easton, Maryland, workers unpacked them and labeled each tray by number to disguise the eggs’ breeder. When the birds hatched, their wings were tagged with a metal number. Four weeks later, the now-adult chickens were carefully examined for size, color, and weight.

They were looking for what contest organizers called the “Chicken of Tomorrow.” At the time, as had been the case for centuries, chickens were raised for their eggs — all around the world, only the wealthy ate chicken as a main dish. The industry wanted to change that, and was betting on chickens becoming cheaper than beef and pork, then the most popular meat, if they could be bred to grow larger while eating less feed. The contest was part of their planned revolution.

The beginning of this revolt kicked off with the picking of the winning breeds: the New Hampshire, the White Rocks, and Dark Cornish flocks. Soon after, two British companies — which eagerly signed franchise agreements so they could also profit from the contest — brought the prize-winning American chickens to East Anglia and Edinburgh and went on to develop even bigger birds for the U.K. market. And they did, creating the two main chickens that we eat today, known as Cobb 500 and Ross 308. Today, 90 percent of the 23 billion chickens eaten every year are either Cobb or Ross broilers.

If, after reading Michael's article, you're not particularly in the mood for chicken, I've got you covered below. Have a wonderful weekend.


90% of chickens are one of two breeds, which contributes to environmental problems that are spreading worldwide.


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