ChickenA History from Farmyard to Factory
A History from Farmyard to Factory

Why has the chicken become the meat par excellence, the most plentifully eaten and popular animal protein in the world, consumed from Beijing to Barcelona? As renowned historian Paul Josephson shows, the story of the chicken’s rise involves a host of factors – from art, to nineteenth-century migration patterns, to Cold War geopolitics. And, whereas sheep needed too much space and cattle were difficult to transport, these compact, lightweight birds produced relatively little waste, were easy to transport, and could happily peck away in any urban garden.

The transformation of the chicken from backyard scratcher to hyper-efficient industrial meat-product has been achieved due to the skill of entrepreneurs who first recognized the possibilities of chicken meat, and the gene scientists who bred the plumpest and most fertile birds. But it has also been forced through by ruthless capitalists and lobbyists for “Big Farma” at the expense of animal welfare and the environment. With no sign of our craving for chicken abating, we’re reaching a crisis point: billions of birds are slaughtered every year, after living lives that are nasty, brutish and short. The waste from these victims is polluting rivers and poisoning animals. We’re now plunging “egg-first” into environmental disaster.

Alongside this story, Josephson tells another: of an animal with endearing characteristics that, arguably, can lay claim to being man’s best friend long before the dog reared its snout or the cat came in from the cold. Celebrated in medieval romances and modern cartoons, the chicken’s relationship to humanity runs deep. By treating these animals as mere food products, we become less than human.

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  • June 2020
  • 252 pages
  • 152 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $25.00
  • 9781509525911
  • Open eBook $11.99
  • 9781509525942
Table of Contents

Introduction: Egg First
1 Chicken Culture
2 Ecology and Industry
3 Chicken as Machine
4 Shit and Feathers
5 Pecking and Protest
6 Drumsticks
Epilogue: Broiler Chernobyl

About the Author
Paul R. Josephson is a leading historian of science, technology, and of Soviet history, and the author of thirteen books.  His research has taken him all over the world, from Siberia to Brazil, and from meat packing plants to nuclear reactors, lumber mills to hydroelectric power stations, to soy, fish and chicken farms, and from rain forest to tundra. Josephson is Professor of Russian and Soviet History at Colby College.​
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"Timely, important and forensically researched"
Australian Book Review

"This book swiftly and very readably outlines the century-long rise of [factory farming corporations] and the re-creation of the chicken into the world’s staple food. Josephson brings the various corporate and scientific personalities of his story alive, and despite the relatively breezy tone he’s chosen to adopt, he never flinches from the ugly reality of his subject."
Open Letters Review

"Wise and scrupulously referenced"
The Spectator

“This is a must-read for all who care about the environment and our health.”
Deborah Fitzgerald, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“This is a smart and lively account of what humans have done to an appealing bird which long ago evolved in the Southeast Asian jungles. The story can serve as the epitome of the consumer capitalist world in its relations with nature. Ultimately, it lays bare the entire 10,000-year history of agriculture, when birds and crops alike became subjected to human manipulation, and forces us to confront ancient attitudes toward the nonhuman world.”
Donald Worster, University of Kansas

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