We suspected fowl play when we first discovered March 19 is annual National Poultry Day when we celebrate our national love affair with poultry. We scrambled to figure out how to celebrate poultry without bias because we are biased; chickens rule the roost when it comes to poultry. We are just going to have to wing this one.
History of National Poultry Day
Chicken is the most widely consumed meat in America, with each of us estimated to eat a clucking 101 pounds per year. Chicken has become our favorite protein because it is affordable (should we say “cheep-er”?) readily available, easy to cook, and versatile. But chickens were not always prized for how well they pair with an endless variety of seasonings, flavors, and cooking methods.
The word poultry is derived from the Latin word “pullus” which means “small animal.” Today we use the word poultry to describe domesticated birds kept for meat, eggs, and possibly feathers. But the first fowls intentionally raised by humans are believed to have been kept for their entertainment value, not for their spicy wings. Archeological evidence points to Southeast Asia and China as the first cultures to breed chickens for the sport of cockfighting as early as 10,000 years ago. Artistic depictions of roosters engaged in combat are found throughout the ruins of many ancient cultures.
Until recently the earliest evidence of large-scale chicken-eating was in first century B.C. Europe. But researchers have unearthed what may be evidence of chickens being domesticated for food at least 100 years earlier in an ancient Israeli city. We may never know when or how someone first tasted chicken roasted over a fire, but obviously that first barbequed chicken was not the last.
Outside the fighting rings and amphitheaters of ancient Rome, Greece, China, and Asia, chickens have held status as divinity in human societies for millennia. Chickens have been worshipped in many parts of the world because of their fighting prowess and are still considered to hold magical powers of divination in remote cultures.
Although some people around the world still engage in cockfighting legally and illegally, the world’s oldest continual sport has been illegal in all fifty of the United States since 2008. That makes us feel good because we think cockfighting is inhumane, plus our fine feathered friend the chicken is now a superstar in the scientific arena. The chicken was the first domesticated animal and first bird to have its genome completely mapped by geneticists in 2004. It turns out that the chicken is the first descendant of dinosaurs. Who knew? We wonder if a cockfight between two prehistoric roostasaurusrex would have been considered fowl play or pure poultry in motion. We are just glad modern chickens are pullus – small animals.
On National Poultry Day we celebrate chickens and other poultry not just for their culinary value, but for their other lesser-known contribution to mankind as pets. Chickens make wonderful pets, whether common laying hens or exotic heritage breeds that are as colorful as tropical fish and cost as much as $399 for a single day-old chick. Chickens make good mousers, some say better than cats, and will keep your vegetable garden fertilized and insect-free.
We realize that by winging it, we managed to duck the fact that poultry is more than just chickens. We will give it another crack and fry harder next year to include other fowl in our tribute on National Poultry Day.