Beef and pork have dominated Americans’ dinner tables for about a century. However, recently, chicken has become the centerpiece.
Between 1909 and 2017, the latest year data is available, the pounds of chicken available to consumers on a per capita basis increased more than 500 percent, according to USDA data.
The USDA's per capita food availability data is used as a proxy for food consumption.
As The Guardian explained, the process of growing chicken has become more industrialized, leading to more of it lining grocery store shelves.
More industrialization has brought lower chicken prices for consumers and more variety of chicken products, such as nuggets and rotisserie chicken, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. While the per-pound prices of beef and pork have also decreased, chicken is significantly cheaper.
More availability at cheaper prices, though, has had consequences.
People who work in meatpacking plants now make less than their counterparts decades ago. In 1950, the average plant worker earned about $34,400 a year in today’s dollars, and providing paid sick leave was the industry norm. Today, the average worker earns $29,600, with no paid sick leave.
Chicken growers — who raise the chicks before they’re sent to the processing plant — have also said they struggle to get by. With expensive construction costs, they take on high levels of debt to keep operating.