The title tells all in this comprehensive account of how an anti-social south Asian fowl became the world’s favorite food.
Today, there are more than 20 billion chickens, an astonishing number, admits Lawler, a contributing writer for Science magazine and freelance journalist. “Add up the world’s cats, dogs, pigs, and cows and there would still be more chickens,” writes the author. Wondering how it is that such a bird has become so ubiquitous in so many manifestations (from McNuggets to occupying Col. Sanders’ buckets), the author embarked on an epic journey of his own to libraries and universities (where he interviewed various authorities on the bird), cockfights in the Philippines, the jungles of Vietnam, the factory farms now processing the birds for mass consumption, and the animal rights activist who keeps but does not eat her chickens. Lawler also takes readers on a trip into deep history, showing us the natural history of the bird, the difficulties archaeologists have with them (their bones do not often survive long sojourns in the ground), and the religious significance of, especially, the rooster. Lawler examined the chicken carcasses that Darwin studied, and he quotes a Hamlet sentry who mentions a rooster. He tells about some long-ago uses of bird parts—e.g., the dung of a rooster could cure an ulcerated lung. We learn about weathervanes and how the bird has been roosting in our language: “chicken” (coward), “cock” (well, you know) and others. The author instructs us about chicken sexual unions and about the intricacies of the egg, and he eventually arrives at the moral question: Why do we treat these birds with such profound cruelty? He also acknowledges that chickens’ waste and demands on our resources are nothing like those of pigs and cows.
A splendid book full of obsessive travel and research in history, mythology, archaeology, biology, literature and religion.