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Tuesday, 24 March 2015 00:00
If you’re looking for something interesting and thought-provoking to read over the Easter break, then we recommend Andrew Lawler’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? (£16.90, Atria Books, ISBN: 1476729891).
The book’s sub-title – The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization – hints at the treasures within, and Lawler’s easy-to-read writing style, light touch and fact-packed text is a constant source of fascinating information.
The reader is taken on an adventure from prehistory to the modern era, with a enlightening account of the partnership between human and chicken (the most successful of all cross-species relationships).
Lawler argues that the chicken is among the most important creatures in human history, essentially because of its amazing adaptability; the Red Jungle fowl has been transformed into everything from tiny bantams to the enormous Jersey Giant.
He argues that it’s this unusual degree of malleability that led to the chicken being domesticated although, he explains, that using the bird as a convenient and efficient source of eggs and meat is a relatively new phenomenon.
For centuries before this modern-day exploitation began, chickens were revered around the world, and used at the centre of ritual and religious ceremonies.
Cock fighting played a massive part in its history and development, too, as did the bird's symbolic use on things such as weather vanes (a tradition begun on church towers and steeples).
Lawler also explains the development of the hybrid industry and expresses his horror at the way birds are treated in many commercial situations nowadays.
The revelation that, in America, chickens being reared for food aren’t classified as animals is a shocker. Contrast this with the way they’ve been embraced down the millennia – by Catholic popes, African shamen, Chinese philosophers and Muslim mystics – and you have to wonder at the morality of our treatment of the humble chicken today.