How Many Chickens in a Lifetime?

I watched an interesting show about the history of food on German tv the other night.  Although the program was way too smugly sure of itself about facts that I didn’t think were necessarily set in stone (or necessarily true at all) and a more accurate description of the show would have been the history of food told as if the uppermost class of white males of western Europe were the only people who have ever existed, there was enough good stuff in there to set a noggin churning.

Such as, we eat a lot of chicken.  

There are several ways to make the enormity of this clear.  One way, which the show did not take, would simply be to point out that the human race eats through more than 50 billion chickens each year.  That’s a lot of chicken life cut short even before you consider the nearly 10 billion economically useless male chicks who get asphyxiated, suffocated, or macerated each year shortly after hatching and presumably merely composted.  That’s also a lot of chicken life cut short even if you don’t include the more than 1.2 trillion chicken eggs that get eaten every year in one form or another, including as an ingredient in ice cream and cookies. That’s roughly 161 chicken eggs per person per year. However, since many of these eggs wouldn’t not have been fertilized, they don’t all count as chicken life that could have been but didn’t even get to hatch.

But back to that 50 billion.  Is it truly possible for humanity to be eating 50 billion chickens per year?  The easiest way to answer that question is to divide 50 billion chickens by 7.9 billion currently operational human mouths.  The answer you get is 6 chickens eaten per year per person on Earth.  

On the face of it, that sounds reasonable.  Judging solely by my mother, who is a big El Pollo Loco fan, easily able to (pandemic times being what they are) cruise through their drive through once or twice a week, 6 whole chickens per year sounds like a walk in the park for one person to plow through.  I bet Mom hits that quota each year before the end of March.

Mom’s probably a pretty average American in terms of the mass of her chicken consumption.  The average American is projected to eat nearly 100 lbs (aka 45 kilograms) of chicken in 2022.  If typical chickens weigh 5-10 lbs, that clocks up to somewhere between 10 and 20 chickens that will go down the gullet of the average American this year.  If my mom really is eating through 6 chickens per quarter year, that puts her, at 24 chickens per year, slightly over the average.  But, to be fair to my mother, that’s just a totally eyeballed estimate and she hardly ever eats beef, pork, or turkey, and lamb, duck, goose, alligator, alpaca, and just about every other type of edible animal don’t figure into my mom’s diet at all.

But the tv show, airing in Germany, was all about Germans.  So where do Germans come in with their chicken eating?  It turns out, per person per year Germans are only eating 13.3 kilograms of poultry (a category primarily consisting of chickens but also including ducks, geese, turkey, ostriches, and several other of their feathered friends).  That’s 30 lbs, or less than a third of what Americans are packing away per person per year in the chicken department. 

This more meager showing is most likely because Germans prefer to eat pigs, porking out on 73 lbs (33 kilograms) of pork per person per year.  It is their favorite meat.  Even beef consumption by Germans comes in only at 22 lbs (9.8 kilograms) per person per year, which is less than half the 55 lbs (25 kilograms) of beef eaten by the average person in the US every year.

The way the German tv show tried to impress with the meat consumption numbers was to point out what they add up to over a single human lifetime.  It’s a fun game.  If you’re an average Earthling eating the equivalent of 6 chickens per year and you manage it for each of your roughly 72 years, that means you’re eating through more than 450 chickens in your lifetime.  According to the program, for Germans eating cows, the number is more like 4 (so, back of the envelope, that would be 8 or 9 for US residents). 

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say with this, beyond just offering some food for thought (no pun intended).  Also‒story seed‒wouldn’t it be interesting if the quotas were legally enforced and when you were born, or came of age, you were given a meat locker?  Here you go, kid.  Don’t eat it up all at once.

Or maybe I just want to say, and I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, if there’s an afterlife, most of us better hope it’s not run by chickens.



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