The Backyard Chicken Movement: Background information when reading Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?

The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization

by Andrew Lawler

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler X
Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? by Andrew Lawler
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Dec 2014, 336 pages

    Apr 2016, 336 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Backyard Chicken Movement

This article relates to Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?

Print Review

Chicken World"The backyard chicken movement sweeping the United States and Europe is a response to city lives far removed from the daily realities of life and death on a farm, and the bird provides a cheap and handy way for us to reconnect with our vanishing rural heritage," writes Lawler in Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? "This trend may not improve the life or death of the billions of industrial chickens, but it may revive our memories of an ancient, rich, and complex relationship that makes the chicken our most important companion. We might begin to look at chickens and, seeing them, treat them differently."

Susan Orleans, a staff writer for The New Yorker, admitted in a 2009 article that she had a "chicken fixation." Calling the backyard chicken the "it" bird, Orleans is just one of many consumers looking to reconnect with their food source, and raising small numbers of poultry in a backyard. While exact numbers are hard to come by, the movement is strong enough to create flourishing business for magazines such as Backyard Poultry, which has articles that range from advice on how to construct backyard coops, to how to winterize birds, to what state and government laws might mean to an increasingly passionate hobby for many.

Chicken EggsUntil the '50s, keeping a few garden chickens around was common practice — they were low-maintenance, getting by on food scraps and housed in modest coops, they fertilized the garden and ate harmful bugs, and provided a good meal once their egg-laying years were over. The advent of commercial supermarkets with ready availability of eggs in the '50s slowly made the backyard chicken a not-so-vital need, a process that was only accelerated as an emphasis on modernity in the wake of the post-war boom meant leaving the farm far behind.

The keeping of chickens was also, write both Orleans and Lawler, a decidedly women's business, and a way of providing additional income. These days, Orleans writes, "chickens [seem] to go hand-in-glove with the post-feminist reclamation of other farmwife domestic arts - knitting, canning, quilting. It [is] a do-it-yourself hobby at a moment when doing things yourself was newly appreciated as a declaration of self-sufficiency, a celebration of handwork, and a push-back from a numbing and disconnected big-box life."

BookBrowse Editor, Tamara Smith's Backyard ChickensDozens of websites and online groups and specialized industries (including related home decor companies) cater to this subsection of the urban foodie movement. Related interest in composting, beekeeping etc. is pointing to an increased desire for going back to the basics as far as food is concerned. For example, in 2013, 5,000 New Yorkers attended educational workshops led by the New York City Compost Project, a program created in 1993. As for chicken rearing, despite its growing popularity, not all is roses in the backyard. Some critics suggest that there are a few downsides including predation by foxes and raccoons, non-productive hens, and the steep cost of eggs produced by backyard chickens. These might be smaller points for many. One of my good friends, for example, raises backyard chickens in her urban Boston home. Among other factors, she cites the quality of the eggs, not their cost, as a reason to indulge in this foodie movement.

The backyard chicken movement has faced problems with legislation though. In May 2014, Michigan lost its "right to farm" law, which means residents can no longer keep chickens and bees and such. In New York City, where the movement is very popular, hens are allowed but keeping roosters is illegal. This having been said, the legislative landscape might be changing in favor of this movement. For example, the USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced "massive funding to support research about small and medium-sized family farms, such as small farms' ability to build-up local and regional economic systems." No matter the pace of legislation, backyard chicken devotees hope the momentum to raise a few birds is on their side. It seems that increasingly, our relationship to the chicken (and to the land in general), is going back full circle.

Chicken World, courtesy of themetapicture
Eggs, courtesy of Fir0002
BookBrowse editor Tamara Smith's own backyard chickens

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?. It originally ran in February 2015 and has been updated for the April 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...
  • Book Jacket: The West
    The West
    by Naoíse Mac Sweeney
    It's become common for history books and courses to reconsider the emphasis on "Western Civilization...
  • Book Jacket
    A Death in Denmark
    by Amulya Malladi
    Can a mystery novel be informative, intriguing and deeply comforting all at once? Amulya Malladi ...
  • Book Jacket
    Shrines of Gaiety
    by Kate Atkinson
    A few years ago, magazines ran pieces about how the 2020s were likely to be the 1920s all over again...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Hotel Cuba
    by Aaron Hamburger

    A stunning novel about two Russian Jewish sisters, desperate to get to the U.S. but trapped in the hedonistic world of 1920s Havana.

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Such Kindness

30 Copies to Give Away!

Few writers paint three-dimensional characters with such verve and humanism.
Booklist (starred review)



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.