How the Chicken Conquered the World

Smithsonian Magazine

All hail the conquering chicken! Chickens are the Western world's most ubiquitous dinner entreé — how did they achieve such sweeping cultural and culinary dominance? That very interesting question is the subject of an equally sweeping article (and a wacked-out slideshow!) in this month's Smithsonian magazine.

How did the chicken—believed to have descended from the Southeast Asian jungle fowl and "discovered" by the side of a road in Greece in the first decade of the fifth century B.C.— become so dominant? It has made quite the journey through history to end up here, victorious in mild taste and texture.

According to the article, archaeologists believe chickens were first domesticated for cockfighting, not for eating. (Throughout history they've also served as war mascots for the Romans, who carefully observed their behavior before battle, and symbols of fertility, most notably in ancient Egyptian temples.) Their spread westward, inevitable as it was, likely originated 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley when the Harappan civilization traded goods with the Middle East. From there, the chicken made its way to Egypt, where Egyptians pioneered the art of egg incubation around 1,000 B.C, and then on to the Mediterranean a few hundred years later, where it served as a Roman culinary delicacy.

But, like a lot of other things that fell out of favor when Rome collapsed, so did the chicken. (Post-Rome Europeans preferred to feast on fatter birds like geese and partridge.) Chickens likely landed in the New World a century or so before Columbus, brought by Polynesians who hit the Pacific coast of South America, and from then until well into the 20th century chickens were valued primarily for their eggs. However, the invention of factory farming and the discovery that chicken feed could be successfully fortified with antibiotics and vitamins, and that chickens could be raised indoors, sealed the chicken's fate with our plate.

Interestingly, the backlash against "ethically indefensible" factory farming hasn't diminished the chicken's power. Rather, it's helped feed a "renewed cultural romance" with the chicken, as NPR put it. Urban farming, backyard chickens, heritage breeds—chickens remain a big part of the public consciousness.

The article is lengthy but a great read.

Read the Full Article: How the Chicken Conquered the World at Smithsonian.com

And you can't miss the accompanying feature, this wacked-out slideshow:

Chickens Dressed Like Napoleon, Einstein and Other Historical Figures at Smithsonian.com

Chicken Recipes from The Kitchn:
How To Cook Moist and Tender Chicken Breasts Every Time
Easy Dinner Recipe: Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken
Sunday Dinner: 7 Takes on Roast Chicken

(Image: Timothy Archibald/Smithsonian.com)