By John Hassell Yeatts © 1983-2012
Issue: March, 1983
Before this old tired scribbler lays down his pen and has his ticket punched for the long and lonely journey to the undiscovered land, he will not be deterred from singing the praises of the chicken - perhaps mans greatest friend on earth.
For undetermined ages the lowly chicken has hovered and roosted close to the homicidal man, asking nothing but a few grains of corn and a handful of mash in exchange for serving him with a dedication that often borders upon the travesty. And what has man bestowed? Nothing but sheer exploitation.
Open a cookbook printed in any language known to civilization and you will turn but a few, if any, pages before you discover one of several hundred recipes that exhort the reader to “break three or four eggs into a bowl.” Everyone knows that Christmas would not be Christmas without eggnog. Holiday tradition is founded upon it. And those same cookbooks contain more ways to prepare the carcass of that wonderful bird for delicate human consumption than any animated subject mentioned therein. There must be a thousand ways all good.
Chicken soup has undoubtedly started more sick and whinny people upon the road to recovery than all the pills in the pharmaceutical repositories throughout the world. Then chicken’s tender flesh has probably saved more lives than wonder drugs by keeping its myriad consumers from starving to death. Whole empires of financial profit have been founded upon its consumption. What other beast or bird could have taken an unknown filling-station operator and made him into a distinguished, goateed Kentucky Colonel attired in a white suit and spring tie that provided instant recognition around the globe? What restaurant in any corner of the world would attempt to adequately serve its clientele without the lowly chicken listed on its menu? At least one-half of all the politicians on earth owe their elections to chicken banquets; innumerable church organizations are held intact by chicken-laden tables on the shaded grounds; and countless families are smilingly cemented together through the consumption of the tenderized broiler during traditional reunions.
The chicken, always uncomplaining, has furnished research scientists with enough of its kind to have them redesign its natural body and press it always onward into unresisting production of the egg it gives so cheerfully. The docile hen is now placed inside a wire coop that allows room for only one position. And standing there with an expression of love for humanity upon her devoted face, she is deprived of all contact with her male counterpart. She never hears a rooster crow, nor is allowed to engage herself as the object of a barnyard chase. She listens to snappy music she doesn’t understand and, blinking in 24-hour artificial light, she strains with all her inner muscles to lay two daily eggs instead of one.
The very name - chicken - is tossed about by unappreciative humans as a synonym for cowardice. And yet somewhere in a recessive corner of her brain she carries the instincts to sacrifice her living body to cover her chicks when a plundering hawk hovers high above if only afforded an opportunity. Brave - not cowardly - are her kind. This is never doubted by those who have witnessed the sorry spectacle of paunchy, stubbled men smelling of tequila and a lot of other things urging enraged cocks to fight to their deaths. And then sometimes when wounded enough to lose the match, to be plucked from the ring by his brave owner and literally torn asunder by his legs and the quivering parts of his body tossed into the dust at the noble owner’s sandled feet.
Why not the chicken as our national bird - a bird of peace, not war? Instead our founding fathers chose the irascible eagle, whose only claim to bravery is pecking at the eyes of some unsuspecting mountain climber or carrying off an innocent, motherless lamb in his mighty talons. Yet we cannot spend a coin or a piece of legal tender without looking at the image of this unsightly bird fully in the face to be reminded of this injustice.
This footsore old wanderer will not commit his appetite to the exclusion of chicken, but he does propose, and will fight with his failing vigor, for some kind of national day for the neglected chicken. For the irony of it all, for the utilization of the egg for more than a thousand years as some kind of symbol for Easter, we have missed a golden opportunity and have, alas, attributed that egg to a bunny rabbit.