Democratizing Luxury and the Contentious 'Invention of the Technological Chicken' in Britain
In 1950 poultry was a rare luxury in Britain, only one per cent of the total meat consumption. But over the next thirty years chicken consumption grew at the remarkable (compound) rate of 10 per cent per annum, while the overall consumption of meat remained stagnant from the 1950s to the 1980s. By then poultry had become the single most important source of meat, with a quarter of the total share of the market, replacing former favourites like beef, mutton and bacon in the British diet. This transformation was made possible by the emergence of intensive rearing in poultry farming. This was a dramatic change in production, dependent on technological innovations across several otherwise unrelated sectors: in pharmaceuticals and feedstuffs production, in refrigeration, slaughtering and packaging. The widespread distribution of cheap chicken led to its mass adoption throughout the country. But such a transformation in meat eating habits was not without its controversies. Contemporary concerns emerged from the late 1950s over the possible long term dangers to human health from the technological transformation inherent in intensive rearing regimes. The paper emphasises that it was the leading retailers, in particular J. Sainsbury, who acted as a key intermediary in this contested market, reconciling consumer uncertainty by attaching their own reputation to product quality, and then furthermore by intervening in the quality standards employed in its supply chain.
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