It seems the humble chicken is being severely punished by the forces of Karma for having formerly dared to be naughty dinosaurs.
I started to notice a couple of years ago, that it was becoming virtually impossible to find any food in my local Morrison’s supermarket, that wasn’t made partly or entirely out of chicken. Being as we are what we eat, that went for my fellow shoppers too.
In my fevered imaginings, it began to seem as though the very ice-cream and cakes sections, the bakery, the canned foods sections and everything in the freezers, the enormous bags of potato chips, were all branded with added chicken, or at worst chicken flavouring. Warm roast chickens sweating in cellophane bags were gently breeding salmonella on special tables everywhere.The grab-and-go office lunch section was filling up with chicken salad and mayo wraps…
A species that had once upon a time roamed the Earth as a fierce velociraptor or mighty T-rex (and survived through the Holocene era by hiding out in the New Guinea jungle) has been reduced over 6,500 millennia, surviving the rise of our ancestral tree-shrews and successive earth-shattering asteroid events and supervolcanoes to become a flightless vermiphage the size and texture of a feather-coated handbag, with a similar level of intellect, is nowadays artificially bred and laced with water and antibiotics in tiny cages in its billions the world over for the sole benefit of hungry humankind.
In the strictly numerical sense it is a highly successful species. But how successful is a bird that is allowed to live for only a few weeks, debeaked and crouching in its own shit, existing purely to be turned into flaccid, plumped-up flavourless nuggets for impoverished schoolkids and late-night drunks?
I put it to you, not very many hens survive in the wild nowadays.
Certainly, all the different varieties of cook-chill ready meals on my Morrison’s shelves seem to be chicken-based. Chicken Korma, Chicken Rogan Josh, Chicken Dopiaza, Chicken Biryani, Tikka Masalla, Chicken and Ham Macaroni Cheese, Breaded shaped chicken breast-meat with cheesy topping (with added chicken)… Chicken and Leek Pie, Chicken Lasagna, Shepherd’s Pie with Chicken, Fish Pie with Chicken and Rice (Paella), Chicken picnic slices (Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Chicken (48%) (That’s enough chicken recipes, we get the picture. It’s only a serving suggestion. Ed.)
The depressing list goes on and on. No other meats seemed to be available in any shape or form, other than possibly Turkey, which is chicken writ-large. And there, occupying one entire aisle five shelves high and forty feet long, were the plumped-up corpses of more chickens, lines of them: naked, trussed, their underparts exposed and suspiciously pink, indicative of death by carbon monoxide gassing; whole, or pre-hacked into little pieces: breasts here, legs there, giant multi-packs of ‘barbeque’ thighs and wings – packs of bloodied livers – and on the top shelf, the real hardcore Chicken porn: corn-fed, free-range, slaughtered-practically-at-birth, underage chickens… but not a drop of blood to be seen.
I once read that forty BILLION chickens are reared and slaughtered worldwide every year, a veritable ‘Pollocaust’. Today, listening idly to the Food Programme on BBC R4, while tipping another expensive sachet of slimy chicken-in-jelly catfood into her bowl, I learned that one UK slaughterhouse alone produces two million dead hens every week, to supply the supermarket trade with pallid, tasteless, denatured protein, of which over 40% will end up rotting in landfill instead of ever being purchased, and another 40% after being scraped into the bin by desperate housewives who no longer know how to boil even that essential chicken precursor, an egg…
The one thing that separates Man from the run-of-the-mill beasts is our capacity to overindulge in industrialised mass murder of our fellow sentient creatures; and then to deny the fact of it to ourselves. Not only to deny it, but to turn it on its head: Mankind is actually THREATENED by chickens, or so the scare stories go.
Even as we strip the moist flesh from the legbone of destiny, we are staring in horrified fascination at the prospect of a pneumonic plague of Bird Flu, that any day now threatens to engulf one of the dirtier nations where chickens are bred by the billion, Vietnam or Thailand or China – from where the Western media morbidly expects the first news to filter out of an uncontrollable pandemic resulting from the inevitable mutation of a deadly zoonotic virus capable of leaping from hen to human, from airline passenger (some migrant, obviously) to crowded city, drowning us in our own blood-flecked sputum: poetic justice, of a sort.
Nevertheless, cheap chicken is kind of keeping the world’s poor fed. It’s a moral dilemma.
‘A Reader’ points out the further, religious significance of chicken: it is neither pork, nor beef.
As a consequence of this zoological truism, nobody needs go to war, or be lunched – sorry, ‘lynched’ – over a KFC bucket of neutral chicken wings, or a bowl of chicken soup. Dum-dum cartridges may safely be greased with chicken-fat and no sepoys mutiny, no Black Holes of Kolkata open up to receive fragrant colonial ladies. Hindoo and Musselman may safely graze, together if they wish.
The egregious lack of a chicken-sensitive dietary edict in any of the world’s major religions, she says, accounts for the widespread popularity of the delicacy in tricky parts of the world where these things matter.
Even this one, apparently.