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.

[Read more: Cheap chicken, beef came at a cost. How American meat plants bred coronavirus hot spots.]

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.

[Read more: Amid price-fixing indictment for poultry processors, growers say they continue to struggle]

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.

Type of work:

Sky Chadde has covered the agriculture industry for Investigate Midwest since 2019 and spent much of 2020 focused on the crisis of COVID-19 in meatpacking plants, which included collecting and analyzing...

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