Let me start this discussion of chickens with a mention of beef steak. You remember beef steak, don’t you?
Henny Penny told Chicken Licken that
the sky was falling. She didn't know
the half of it.
It came from cattle. It was red and gave off tantalizing aromas as it broiled and charred. It sizzled noisily sometimes. It came off the grill almost black the outside, and pink, juicy, and flavorful on the inside. Sometimes it came attached to a bone that you could gnaw on while your dog sat under the table, begging. And unless you were very poor you could afford it on a fairly regular basis.
Well, that went away for a lot of people. Cattle growers began discovering that the price of feed was too high because chemical and bioengineering companies had instituted practices that were driving up grain prices. In addition, the price of corn was driven up by people who were snapping it up not to eat, but to turn into ethanol. Today, we burn up about 10 percent of our corn crop in our automobiles. Check the chart. That annually-growing swatch of yellow metastasis is corn-derived ethanol.
But there were always chicken and eggs. Eggs were cheap, and for the moment still are, although don’t count on it lasting for long.
And instead of a steak, you could always cook a chicken. Chicken was cheap. Once the Republican Hoover Administration had been banished for eternity to the Great American Hall of Shame that we call history, there actually could be a chicken in almost every pot in America, just as Hoover promised. At least on the weekends. As long as Hoover wasn’t around to screw it up.
Recently, that situation has eroded. These days you can pay for just enough ground beef to make a hamburger what you used to pay for a quarter of a pound of imported, line-caught, artisinally-smoked Scottish salmon. Never mind what the salmon costs these days.
That increase in beef prices drove people to chicken in increasingly growing droves. Which in turn inflated the price of chicken. In my supermarket the other day, chicken breasts were selling for something like eight bucks a pound. And now it’s about to get worse.
The New York Times reports a bird flu epidemic in the midwest and west that’s infecting chickens, forcing farmers to slaughter and destroy them. The infections can spread fast. That’s because the chickens are crammed together by the thousands — actually the hundreds of thousands — in giant Buchenwaldish poultry barns. For example, the Times story mentioned that one egg farm was disposing of “about 5.5 million hens housed in 26 metal barns.”
Do the arithmetic. We’re talking about over 192,000 hens per barn. Little wonder the USDA says that if you have an outbreak on a farm, every last chicken must die and then be cremated, composted, or buried. You can have enough infected chickens on one farm to infect the planet.
So now it’s a pretty good bet that the price of every kind of animal protein will move up a notch. The price of Scottish smoked salmon will cost what caviar used to cost. Steak will cost like Scottish smoked salmon. Chicken will cost like steak.
That’s no skin off the noses of the one percent. If you’re earning a couple-a million bucks a year, so you pay 30 bucks extra for a sirloin steak. What’s the big deal? And why are all those middle class and working folks whining again?
As for the rest of us? Well, you remember what Marie Antoinette said. Or what she might have said, had she been living today.
“Let them eat cockroaches.”