December 01, 2016

Behold, the apex of human ingenuity and invention. Credit: Simon Morris / Flickr Creative Commons

What is humanity’s greatest technological achievement? Is it the Internet? Antibiotics? Space travel? According to Emelyn Rude, food writer and author of the book Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Food, the chicken may at least deserve a nomination.

Three Takeaways:

  • Growing chickens is one of the fastest - and most efficient - ways of producing protein. The commercial broiler, one of the most common commercially raised breeds of chicken, “grows so fat so fast, that if it were a human baby born six pounds, within two months that baby would weigh 660 pounds,” says Rude.
  • How did chicken go from a high-priced treat to a daily staple? Rude says the “cholesterol scare” of the 1970s played a big role. As scientists and the government began encouraging people to eat less red meat - and selective breeding made chicken cheaper and faster to produce - it began replacing pork and beef as a staple protein of the American diet.
  • Chickens aren’t just for eating and laying eggs. They’ve also played a part in many important technological breakthroughs. Louis Pasteur discovered vaccines while trying to cure fowl cholera, and Charles Darwin based many of his theories about evolution on selective chicken breeding.

More Reading:

Emelyn Rude, NPR, innovation hub, Kara Miller, WGBH, pri, Chicken

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