Playing chicken

I have mixed feelings about those sad chicken slaughter videos that appear on my newsfeed from time to time thanks to some PETA-loving, kale-eating humanitarians I happen to be friends with.

I love these people, don’t get me wrong. They’re the ones that give me an endless supply of cat videos that I never asked for and express outrage when white politicians say stupid things pertaining to vaginas.

However, the chicken videos make me uneasy. I love chicken in all shapes and sizes. I’ll eat it on a stick, in a burrito, on top of pasta. It can be shaped like a 
nugget, a dinosaur or even a finger.

Chicken is an Americana emblem, and frankly, I’ve never wanted to know about the savage bird breeders 
behind my infatuation.

I grew up making drawings of white roosters atop picturesque farmhouses with my 120-count Crayola crayon box.

The bright gobblers were always a mixture of brick red and scarlet.

It seems as though a lot has changed for chickens since my childhood, or I’ve been disillusioned to believe that these feathered animals are courageous and enjoy wearing green clubround glasses. Chicken Little forever changed me.

Nowadays, breeders are growing chickens faster than ever and the food industry is second-guessing their choice to feed Americans obese birds that can barely stand up.

These chickens live a brief but brutal life – only 47 days. Oftentimes they collapse under their own weight and are forced to waste their days away in their own excrement.

According to the online news outlet Quartz’s Chase Purdy, food companies want to slow things down. Finally, they’re realizing the undue burden they place on chickens to become fat is causing them to taste bad.

Essentially, they’re taking the fad of slow-cooker chicken to a whole new 
level – slow-growing 
chicken.

“Doing so, though, requires scientists dive into and tinker with chicken genetics to create a new, slower-growing model of the bird. That fundamentally changes what winds up on dinner plates,” Purdy said.

We’ve been eating genetically modified chicken for years, and companies like Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms pick up a breeder catalog as if it were a Girl Scout Cookie order form and select which items they’d like to purchase.

In 1960, the average chicken weighed 3.5 pounds and was slaughtered after a long and fruitful life of 65 days. Now, chickens average more than 6 pounds and are 
slaughtered at 47 days.

Obviously, this is bad. But there is sunny news amidst these dark times. Chipotle, a fan favorite of many college students, is working with animal welfare groups to switch vendors that will offer them smaller birds that taste better. Wendy’s, Noodles & Co. and Whole Foods all boast similar programs.

Happy chickens that are free to roam around in grassy meadows would surely put a smile on Robert Frost’s face, and might even inspire some new pastoral poetry.

It’s time for big companies to follow in suit by breeding smaller and healthier animals. In 2014, 62 billion chickens were slaughtered. We might as well try to make the little time they have here on earth as nice as possible.

This article was originally published as a column for the Indiana Daily Student on 03 March 2017.

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