The Chicken Story

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Tyson now sells nearly two-thirds of its production to restaurants and take-out chains such as Boston Market or to food-processing companies like Stouffer’s.

TODAY WE EAT MORE CHICKEN than we do beef, an astonishing turnabout for what was for decades a society that ate more beef, per capita, than any other in the world except the beef-obsessed Argentineans. Part of the reason for that, to be sure, is increased health consciousness. But no small part is the fact that capitalism’s invisible hand has turned a luxury into a commonplace.

The shopper who bought one of those 387 chickens that Mrs. Wilmer Steele first raised deliberately for market in 1923 paid well over ten dollars a pound for it in 1994 dollars. Today a shopper can buy one from Perdue, Tyson, or any of dozens of other chicken companies for less than one-tenth of that price.

That is no small accomplishment. And the thanks are due to countless, mostly nameless individuals—farmers, feed-mill owners, breeders, transporters, scientists, bankers, wholesalers, and the like—who sought only to make life a little better for themselves and made it a little better for everyone—except the chickens—in the process.