Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 10, 2002Volume 30, Number 29Two-Week Issue

The chicken (Gallus gallus) as a symbol of human development will be the focus of a conference May 17-19.

Event explores how humans
transformed 'The Chicken'

The humble chicken -- from its beginnings as a jungle fowl to its current role as fast-food fare -- will be the focus of an international conference being held at Yale Friday-Sunday, May 17-19.

Titled "The Chicken: Its Biological, Social, Industrial and Cultural History: From Neolithic Middens to McNuggets," the conference is sponsored by the Program in Agrarian Studies. It is supported by funds provided by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies.

The goal of the conference is to provide a natural and cultural history of the chicken (Gallus gallus) to better understand the transformations of agriculture, cuisine, health, biodiversity and labor associated with its domestication, production and consumption.

From its beginnings as a jungle fowl in Southeast Asia 7,000 years ago, the chicken became a ubiquitous presence in farmyards around the world. Centuries of breeding and research have been devoted to improving the chicken's breast, legs, wings, feathers and eggs -- making it arguably the most engineered of domestic animals today. Once used to promote diversity in household production, agricultural economies and urban diets, the chicken is now a mass-produced commodity and a staple of the fast-food industry, where it is marketed in such guises as "Chicken McNuggets."

"Transforming the chicken to serve our various needs, we have, in turn, been transformed," says James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and director of the Program in Agrarian Studies. "How better to understand mankind's manipulation of the natural world than through the fabled and troubled history of one of its most important domesticates: the chicken? In its scope and depth, this conference may well be a first."

The conference will feature over 15 panels and plenary sessions addressing such themes as chicken folklore and symbolism; the social, economic and political impact of industrial breeding and poultry processing; and the history of chicken consumption worldwide.

Over 75 scholars, agronomists, public intellectuals, chicken growers, workers, industry representatives, and activists from the labor, farm, animal welfare, environmental and public health movements will take part in the conference. The presenters will include, among others:

* Michael Pollan, author of "The Botany of Desire";

* The Reverend Jim Lewis of the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance, a group working for better conditions for poultry workers, farmers and communities;

* Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy;

* Noel Honeyborne, founder of Fowls for Africa, a South African development organization to preserve heritage breeds of African chickens for small-scale producers;

* Stephen Green-Armytage, author and photographer of "Extraordinary Chickens"; and

* Stephanie Black, filmmaker of "Life and Debt," an examination of globalization's effect on agriculture, including poultry processing, in Jamaica.

Conference sessions will be held in Sage Hall, 204 Prospect St. The event is open to the public free of charge; however, online registration is required.

In honor of the fowl whose history is being considered, a series of events have also been planned around the conference. Sterling Memorial Library will feature a display of chicken-related books, pamphlets and art May 1-20. During the course of the conference, there will be a small film and photo festival and literary readings.

For more information on the conference or to register, visit the website at www.yale.edu/agrarianstudies/chicken.


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