Week 4

History of Chicken

Chicken is the most well known poultry in the world. The common chicken is a descendent from the Red Jungle Fowl in Southeast Asia, the earliest found in 3000 B.C. This history of chicken as a meal goes way back in history. It was documented that chicken was eaten as a meat in 600 B.C. in Babylonia and Egypt. It was one of the most common meats available in the middle ages. It was usually served in a stew with onions, milk, and spices. In the 1700, chickens were of abundance in India and way easier to get than beef, so they became a huge staple.

Things that are edible on a chicken:

Breasts: white meat

Leg: dark meat

  •  drumstick (lower leg)
  • thigh (upper leg)


Other things that can be eaten, especially in other cultures:

Chicken feet: common in the Caribbean and China

Giblets (heart, liver, and gizards)

Head: popular in China to eat the brains.

Neck: common in Asian dishes.

Oysters: dark meat on the back of chicken by the thigh

Pygostyle (chicken’s butt) and testicles: common in East Asia

Carcase: can be used for soup stock

The first documented chicken coming to America was in 1493 with Christopher Columbus’ second trip to the Americas. Chickens made their way to the United States by settlers of Jamestown in 1607. They were raised by individuals and when farms were set up, the chicken flocks grew. They weren’t originally raised for food. They were first raised for cock fights, and then that turned into having “Bird Shows” where they would compare feathers.

Thus over a period of several centuries man first kept chickens for sport, then for pleasure, then for utility; and breeding first concentrated on fighting qualities, then in feather form and color pattern and final on egg and meat production. In the early days of American agriculture grain was cheap, and inasmuch as chickens feed largely on grains and were able to utilize much ‘waste.’ It was soon found that eggs and poultry meat could be produced quite cheaply.

With the growth of industry and towns, people got away from farms and chickens. Chickens became less common and so prices for them rose significantly. During the late 1800s in the United States, chicken was more expensive than other kinds of meat so many people couldn’t afford it and it became a symbol of economic status to be able to afford that kind of meal. Chickens were raised for meat before then, but it didn’t become a huge commercial industry called “broiler industry” until about the 1920s. The “Broiler Industry” actually happened by accident:

In 1923, as poultry legend has it, Celia Steele of the Delmarva Peninsula was sent 500 chicks instead of the 50 she typically received each year. Unable to return these mail-order birds, Mrs. Steele instead built them a bigger chicken house and sold them off as meat a few weeks before everyone else. Her profits from this transaction were mind-blowing—some $8.60 per pound in today’s currency—and the next year she doubled her hatchery man’s mistake by ordering 1,000 chicks. Within two years she was up to ten thousand. By the end of the decade, she was raising over 25,000 birds on her property and making profits to match. Seeing Celia Steele’s good fortune, her neighbors, who were largely struggling subsistence produce farmers eager for better work, soon copied her, and quickly the modern “broiler industry” as we know it was born.

The consumer was mainly upper class who could afford to go out to eat and try new cuisine. During World War II, there was a shortage of pork and beef, and chicken prices lowered, so chicken consumption rose. By the 1950s, chicken was affordable for everyone and with women who were joining the workforce and needing easy meals, fast food restaurants created an even bigger market for chickens. Kentucky Fried Chicken and other chicken-oriented restaurants became increasingly popular and are still quite popular with the addition of Chick-fil-a

Fun Facts:

  • In the late 1990s in Europe, chicken was in high demand over beef because people were afraid of Mad Cow Disease.
  • Average Americans eats over 90 pounds of chicken a year
  • In 1983, McDonalds introduced the Chicken McNugget
  • Chickens are believed to be the closest living relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • A healthy chicken can lay around 265 eggs a year




How Chicken Conquered the American Dinner Plate

Chicken Timeline

Chicken Facts






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