Cheap Chickens and Industry Fat Cats

shell_chickens_5-26_post.jpg

jlastras/flickr


Yesterday at my beloved local library I stumbled upon a title that I would otherwise have missed: Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America's Favorite Food, by University of Arkansas anthropologist Steve Striffler.  It's a wonderful book filled with eye popping factoids, among them that chicken "in its most basic form is simply not that profitable." 

So, rather than sell us a plain old bird, producers "add value" with thousands of different "chicken products"--some wildly successful, like the 700-calorie Burger King Chicken Sandwich, some less so, like the Tyson "giblet burger" made of pure gizzard that even the Arkansas prison system refused to inflict upon its inmates. Food engineering has helped make chicken profitable, but it's immigrant labor that has kept it cheap.  Writes Striffler:

"Mexican immigration in particular has been about ensuring a steady supply of cheap food.  Today, most of the labor of producing and processing food in the United States is done by Latinos, a majority of whom are immigrants from Mexico ... The problem is that we now have a food system that not only is dependent on cheap labor, but also requires an easily exploitable workforce to produce and process unhealthy foods.  Americans are destroying their bodies by consuming the wrong foods, and immigrants are destroying their bodies by producing those foods."

Presented by

Ellen Ruppel Shell is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Journalism at Boston University. She is the author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Health

From This Author

Just In