Australians love our chicken with it being the most popular meat treat of modern Aussie diets. But did you know, it almost wasn’t to be?
A surprising little known player in the journey to bring chicken to our dinner tables: penicillin.
A FEW years ago, Australia was named the meat-eating capital of the world.
In fact, recent OECD data shows the average consumes about 92.5kg of meat each year — 7.4kg of lamb, 20.3kg of pork, 22.8kg of beef and a whopping 42.0kg of chicken.
“Meat consumption is related to living standards, diet, livestock production and consumer prices,” the organisation noted in the introduction.
Australia is fortunate to rate highly in all of those categories.
Considering our beef industry is so huge — in 2015-16 it was estimated to be worth $8.5 billion — the amount of chicken we consume seems wildly out of proportion.
We’re actually the third-highest consumer of chicken in the world per capita, behind Israel (which favours chicken due to the large number of people who follow a kosher diet) and the United States (which, let’s face it, is the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken).
In fact, consumption of chicken has increased every year since the 1980s (remember that decade for later), while consumption of lamb has plunged and the amount of beef we prefer has gone through a number of significant peaks and troughs.
So why are we so in love with chicken?
In the early 20th century, chickens were bred pretty much exclusively for eggs, and once they were too old to lay they were butchered and eaten.
However, the meat tended to be old and stringy, and flavoured with the kitchen scraps, bugs from the garden, and general rubbish that made up their diet.
It wasn’t that appetising when compared to beef and lamb, which had much stronger flavours and a variety of cuts to choose from, and it was nearly always cooked the same old boring way.
However, it’s significantly cheaper to produce chicken than red meat.
According to the Australian Chicken Meat Industry: “In real terms, chicken meat has become more and more affordable over time — there has been no increase in the real cost of chicken meat over the past 50 years”.
It cites advancements in feeding practices and nutrition as well as better housing and improved flock health as key factors in keeping prices low.
As their popularity has increased, birds have been bred to be much larger in size and fed better diets to improve the taste of their meat.
The industry was further revolutionised in the early 1980s, when McDonald’s started rolling out the humble Chicken McNugget around the world.
Suddenly, there was a tasty new alternative to the same old boring roast.
Clearly, Australia has never looked back.
The iconic moment Jessica Simpson couldn’t tell whether she was eating chicken or tuna. Courtesy: Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica