As the world moves forward, the humble chicken has adapted to become one of the most important protein sources. According to the USDA Food Data Central, for every 100g of chicken cooked/braised, breast, skinless, boneless, there are 32.1 grams of protein . A popular poultry alternative, 93% lean ground turkey, only offers 27.1g of protein every 100g . Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala hold the distinction of serving as pseudo national dishes in China and the United Kingdom, respectively. Even though both beef and pork are widely available, chicken has assumed the most accessible protein’s mantle.
For many chicken, serves as the quintessential protein of choice, preferred primarily for its mild taste and uniform texture. America’s obsession with chicken is highlighted in the consumption of wings during the Super Bowl. A chicken wing is a composite of the Wing Tip, Flat, and Drumette. In 2020, the National Chicken Council projected that Americans would consume “a record-breaking 1.4 billion chicken wings during Super Bowl LIV weekend” . To put that into perspective, it is about 115,000 yellow school buses or 215 million 12 oz coke cans put together. The scale of the production capabilities of the modern poultry industry to support America’s favorite pastime is remarkable. Setting aside any critique of the production practices applied, the scale at which the poultry industry performs and sometimes outperforms can be traced to the contribution made by the Chicken of Tomorrow contest help post World War II.
A committee called “Chicken of Tomorrow,” sponsored by A&P Food Stores, consisting of members of 10 National Poultry Organization, two poultry magazines, and three members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was organized with the purpose to breed a chicken, “which, like the broad-breasted turkey, would have more meat on the breast, thing, and drumsticks” . The result was the winner of the 1949 contest, the most recognizable breed on the planet: The White Plymouth Rock. A breed still famous for its meat and yield. The chicken of today is nothing more than a further maturation of the While Plymouth Rock. Upon inspection of the scorecard used, it is noticeable that they applied metrics corresponding to the pounds of feed used. The feed itself was intensely monitored, specially prepared by the American Feed Manufacturers Association, and explicitly utilized to build a better breed. “It takes less than two pounds of feed to produce one pound of chicken (live weight) … By comparison, around seven pounds of feed are required to produce a pound of beef, while more than three pounds are needed to yield a pound of pork .” This feed to gain ratio is vital as it helps understand how vastly efficient the chicken is, compared to its protein counterparts. The Chicken of Tomorrow contest enabled farmers to breed a specific bird with the best level of output to feed growing demand. The current state of the poultry industry is a drastic juxtaposition compared to the more dominant approach of raising chickens before World War II: backyard coups.
A growing middle class generally correlates with higher meat consumption, as noticed in trends of countries worldwide and America itself. Post World War II, America experienced a seismic economic expansion deriving in a booming American middle-class – a middle class willing to spend more importantly. Red meat was considered a delicacy, but the chicken was affordable and cheap after the commercialization of the poultry industry. Fish and seafood, on the other hand, not so cheap. Even though some species and varieties of fish and seafood are consistently affordable, it can be argued that the spread of variety itself might cause the price we experience to be delineated. Below is total expenditure and average price of beef, poultry, pork, fish and seafood on page 1 and 2 respectively between 1984-2019. The data was made available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total expenditure data is broken down according to Total by All Consumer Units, and specific age groups ranging from 25-34 to 45-54. The average price data is broken down according to national average and regionally into Midwest and South. Those regions were specifically chosen since they contain a majority of U.S. agricultural enterprises per sq. mile. While the expenditure report helps show relative to 1984, the expenditure towards poultry has remained fairly stable, whereas beef has seen major shifts. In addition, the average price report shows how the price of chicken whole has remained remarkable stable over the course of 36 years when compared to its protein counterparts.
As mentioned earlier, the White Plymouth Rock bird still serves as the singular point of origin for chicken. Whereas for fish, there is Salmon, Tilapia, Shrimp, including others. A growing trend is that of Aquacultures. Aquaculture farming for fish and seafood has provided a parallel to the purpose-driven model of the “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest. An article titled, Urban Fish Farming: Wave Of The Future?, by Brent Baughman, introduces us to a scientist from Brooklyn College in New York named Martin Schreibman, who says, “it just occurred to me and my colleagues that we can grow a lot of fish in a very small area, on land, under controlled conditions. And there are no antibiotics, pesticides or hormones” .
Aquacultures are not anything new. Fish ponds have been built for millennia. But building aquacultures with the hope of supporting food consumption is a recent phenomenon. Aquacultures can develop fish, seafood, and leafy greens that are currently being tested to provide for a more efficient way of food production. With the ocean getting more polluted by the day, and a lack of self-interest in society to solve a gargantuan issue shall push such alternatives to the forefront. The World Bank supports the development and deployment of aquacultures to help food security and improve responsible fish and shellfish farming practices . A critical endorsement by a financial institution supporting a particular means of production to address potential economic issues. Global aquacultures support the U.S. Fish and seafood industry with close to 40% of the overall 80% imports, resulting in a $10.4 billion deficit, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . A growing number of companies, such as Aquabounty Technologies, Natural Shrimp, Blue Ridge Aquaculture Inc, serve as barometers to view the growth of the Aquaculture industry. Any wide-spread market adoption of aquaculture services or technologies shall result in a reduction of reliance on imports for fish and seafood.
If the historical example of the Chicken of Tomorrow contest can serve as any reference, a concerted effort to solve a particular problem can solve multiple derivates. The primary problem seeking to be addressed by the Chicken of Tomorrow contest participants was to build a better product that would provide a better feed to gain ratio. In 1970, Salmon farming maintained a 2.8 feed to gain ration compared to 1.2 in 2017 due to 30 years of technological developments . The feed to gain ratio of 1.2 is far superior to the less than two pounds for poultry, as mentioned earlier. While the Chicken of Tomorrow contest is history, the Fish of Today contest is well and away with participants chipping away looking to create a superior product with derivates that can mean a lifetime of change in taste pallets. This engagement is not a referendum on poultry consumption, but an argument for food alternatives. It is crucial to arrive at a moment of understanding that food consumption in the next 15-20 years will be drastically different compared to now, and to be prepared with efficient alternatives will only lead to a better socio-economic platform.