From dinosaur to dinner plate, Sally Coulthard tells the fascinating – and sometimes shocking – story of the domestic chicken.
The chicken can fly only a few metres but – somehow – this unlikely evolutionary descendant of Tyrannosaurus Rex has conquered the world. Earth is now home to more than twenty billion chickens, at least ten times more than any other bird. For every human on the planet, there are three chickens.
In Fowl Play, Sally Coulthard charts the chicken's fascinating journey from dinosaur to domestication to exploitation, exploring every aspect of the history of Gallus gallus domesticus: its importance to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as food source and fighting bird; its symbolic roles in religion and folklore and metaphorical function in the language we use; its homely place as egg-providing companion on farms, smallholdings and in suburban back gardens; and its darker modern-day fate as battery bird raised to satisfy society's unquenchable addiction to wings and nuggets.
Of all animals, chickens perhaps best represent the contradictory way we humans treat other species; both beloved pet and cheap commodity, symbol of a sustainable good life and brutalised object of factory farming. The chicken is also a bird we feel deeply familiar with and yet know very little about. As informative as it is entertaining, Fowl Play tells a remarkable tale of evolutionary change, epic global travel and ruthless exploitation – as well as of companionship, ingenuity and the folly of human nature.