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The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food

Steve Striffler

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From inside the chicken factory, a report on the real cost of chicken for farmers, workers, and consumers

Anthropologist Steve Striffler begins this book in a poultry processing plant, drawing on his own experiences there as a worker. He also reports on the way chickens are raised today and how they are consumed. What he discovers about America’s favorite meat is not just unpleasant but a powerful indictment of our industrial food system. The process of bringing chicken to our dinner tables is unhealthy for all concerned—from farmer to factory worker to consumer. The book traces the development of the poultry industry since the Second World War, analyzing the impact of such changes as the destruction of the family farm, the processing of chicken into nuggets and patties, and the changing makeup of the industrial labor force. The author describes the lives of immigrant workers and their reception in the small towns where they live. The conclusion is clear: there has to be a better way. Striffler proposes radical but practical change, a plan that promises more humane treatment of chickens, better food for the consumer, and fair payment for food workers and farmers.

Steve Striffler is associate professor of anthropology, University of Arkansas.

Listen to Steve Striffler's recent interview, On the Economy with Tom Keene, podcasted on Bloomberg radio.

"Striffler presents the first in-depth look at the rise of the chicken industry in late twentieth-century America. The story is vivid, engaging, and—in chapters dealing with Mexican and other immigrant chickenworkers—riveting."—Deborah Fitzgerald, author of Every Farm a Factory

"A gripping and deeply sobering view of ‘big chicken’ from the bottom up. Striffler’s experience on the (dis)assembly line, his sympathetic grasp of the hopes, dreams, and origins of the workforce, and of the larger history of the industry, make for a uniquely powerful and memorable book."—James C. Scott, Yale University

"Modern chicken production and consumption is embedded in a fascinating web of political, economic, social, and even psychological factors that need to be described, understood, and questioned. Steve Striffler, combining scholarly analysis with his remarkable brand of participatory research, has produced a masterful book, one I will recommend widely."—Kelly Brownell, Yale University

"With gripping prose and clear analysis, Striffler's Chicken brings workers, growers, consumers, as well as bird together around one big, unhappy table. His treatment of Mexican immigrant workers at Tyson's, in
particular, is a model of modern-day ethnography."—Leon Fink, editor of Labor: Working-Class History of the Americas

"Extraordinarily powerful. . . . This book will do for chicken what Fast Food Nation did for beef." —Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health

"The work [Striffler] did [in a chicken processing plant] gives his book an amazing and courageous peek inside the plant, the sort of place that is usually off limits to the media. . . . Striffler clearly takes sides in the book, but the righteous indignation and polemics don’t overpower the scholar’s comprehensive approach to the topic. His insight goes beyond the problems of chicken."—Scott Carlson, Baltimore City Paper

"Striffler is a gutsy academic willing to dirty his hands, an academic who . . . writes well. . . . Chicken ought to become a touchstone. . . . The information-gathering is superb. . . . Striffler tells a gripping story."—Steve Weinberg, Des Moines Register

"Like Fast Food Nation, Chicken will drop more than a few jaws with its descriptions, facts, and figures. That’s all the better. I hope that this smart book will be passed from hand to hand, so that consumers will challenge the status quo and so that activists, environmentalists, labor rights organizers, and others will recognize how closely their issues are linked."—Joel Stonington, Orion

"[A] superbly researched and gripping book. . . . Striffler is a gutsy academic who is not afraid to get his hands dirty."—Steve Weinberg, Orlando Sentinel

"[A] fast-paced narrative, rich with personal detail."—Publishers Weekly

"A very readable indictment of today's poultry industry, with hopeful pointers toward the humane and healthy chicken-of-the-future."—Future Survey

"[A] slim but powerful book. . . . Striffler combines firsthand experience, interviews and some riveting history with current events to make for a powerful account."—Brian DeVore, The Land Stewardship Letter

"A powerful look behind the inexpensive and ubiquitous chicken that many of us buy in supermarkets. . . . A good book like Chicken spurs new questions and further study. The text is pithy and accessible to the educated general public as well as to an array of consumer advocates, immigration reformers, geneticists, economists, nutritionists, politicians, agricultural historians, environmentalists, rural developers, and activists. While suitable for undergraduate reading, I would highly recommend it to graduate students in search of research focus. Anyone who digests this book will be aroused."—Deborah Fink, Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"This is an accessible book and a good, popular introduction to the politics of food, contemporary labor conditions, immigration, and the everyday effects of corporate power. It is a good text for introductory college courses, and a good read for non-academics."—Sharryn Kasmir, Science & Society

Selected for the National Agricultural Library collection.
ISBN: 9780300123678
Publication Date: July 24, 2007
208 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
10 b/w illus.
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