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Let’s Talk Chicken

This Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 photo made available by the City of Dover Police Department shows chickens standing next to a truck which fell on its side in Dover, Del.  (AP)
This Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 photo made available by the City of Dover Police Department shows chickens standing next to a truck which fell on its side in Dover, Del. (AP)

With guest host John Donvan

Why are there more chickens than people in the world? The remarkable story of what happened when the chicken crossed the road and the world.

A reporter who writes about archaeology gets a writing assignment that doesn’t thrill him. Go find out how a chicken bone ended up buried on an Arabian Beach. “Follow the bird” his boss tells him. The reporter does, slowly realizing, that the bird that goes “buck buck” has a back story like no one ever imagined.  That chickens aren’t just food. They’re a historical bookmark.  Critical to the shaping of America, a bit player in several religions, plus, there’s a lot of them: more chickens in the world than all the cats, dogs, pigs and cows on Earth put together.  More chickens than people too. Not that they’re ready to take over. Or have they already? This hour On Point: following the bird. A chicken story.

— John Donvan


Andrew Lawler, author of the new book, “Why Did The Chicken Cross the World: The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization.” Contributing writer for Science magazine and contributing editor for Archaeology.

From The Reading List

Smithsonian: How the Chicken Conquered the World— “Chicken is the ubiquitous food of our era, crossing multiple cultural boundaries with ease. With its mild taste and uniform texture, chicken presents an intriguingly blank canvas for the flavor palette of almost any cuisine. A generation of Britons is coming of age in the belief that chicken tikka masala is the national dish, and the same thing is happening in China with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Long after the time when most families had a few hens running around the yard that could be grabbed and turned into dinner, chicken remains a nostalgic, evocative dish for most Americans. When author Jack Canfield was looking for a metaphor for psychological comfort, he didn’t call it ‘Clam Chowder for the Soul.'”

NPR Weekend Edition: Chicken Confidential: How This Bird Came To Rule The Cultural Roost— “If you looked at Earth from far off in the solar system, would it look like it’s run by humans — or chickens? There are about three times as many chickens as people on this planet. And while horses and dogs are often celebrated as humankind’s partner in spreading civilization, a new book argues it’s really the chicken.”

Slate: Birdmen — “Like American baseball or the Tour de France, modern Filipino cockfighting is caught in a tangle of corporate sponsors and performance-enhancing drugs. The brightly lit concession stands, the blaring canned music, and the rows of clean toilets in the restrooms give the event a depressingly modern feel. Still, the people in the cheap seats are the working-class men that you would find at any Canadian hockey game, British rugby match, or Brazilian soccer contest. The real draw, though, seems to be in the gambling outside the ring rather than in the combat inside.”

Read An Excerpt of “Why Did The Chicken Cross The World” By Andrew Lawler


This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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