The June 2007 issue of Gourmet magazine has a quite surprising, sensationalistic article by Daniel Zwerdling on American mass-production of chickens. I say surprising because morals and ethics have never been Gourmet’s beat, and I say sensationalistic because it is, with harrowing descriptions of chickens crippled by their unnaturally rapid growth and the brutal journey to the slaughterhouse, in which an estimated ten percent (or 900 million chickens) are maimed. There are two things I want to mention in connection with this article. The first is a text box of staggering figures that I have reproduced below. I think the numbers are worth mulling over.
•Number of broiler chickens produced in this country in 1955: 1.1 billion
•Number of broiler chickens produced in this country in 2005: 9 billion
•Number of weeks it took for a broiler to reach market weight (around six pounds) in the 1950s: 17
•Number of weeks it took for a broiler to reach that same market weight in 2006: 6
•Estimated number of pounds of chicken consumed per American in 1975: 39
•Estimated number of pounds of chicken consumed per American in 2006: 88
•Approximate number of chickens processed per hour in the nation’s largest slaughterhouses: 25,000
The second is about Gourmet covering a topic this important—and flammable. When Gourmet was first published in January 1941, it may have been an odd time to welcome a magazine devoted to leisure pursuits—a potential paper shortage was already looming in a country gearing up for war. But even early issues of the magazine show it acting as an explicit codifier of a gourmet sensibility taking shape within the American middle class, showing Americans what it meant to be part of an affluent society after fifteen years of depression. Even today, Gourmet positions itself at the privileged top position in the triangulated discourse between consumers, the food industry, and the magazine—the mediating expert and an intuitive link to both. They’re authoritative. They’re standard setters. And the fact that they’re now at least occasionally holding forth on subjects like animal rights and factory farms and sustainability means that the activists have come a long, long way. Imagine! If Gourmet’s covering it, it’s mainstream. Which is exactly where discussion of subjects like these ought to be.
Story by Nathalie Jordi. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in June 2007.