Chicken Politics

by Joshua Foust on 4/12/2012 · 3 comments

I have a piece up at the Atlantic, discussing why chickens sometimes factor heavily into national politics.

Chickens are a surprising bellwether for international economic and political issues. Sounding for all the world like some modern-day Khrushchevian Red Plenty economic master plan, the Uzbek government has demanded that not only agriculture do more, but that industry reduce costs and increase production — just like that. More more more for less less less. So why the chicken handouts? …

But Uzbekistan is hardly the only country to react to a changing political climate through chickens. In the early 1990s, a collapsing Gorbachev-era Russia was experiencing food shortages and hunger. President George H.W. Bush came up with a win-win solution: give surplus U.S. chicken meat to Russia. The U.S. has an insatiable appetite for white chicken breast meat, but in the process produces far more dark chicken leg meat than it could possibly consume. President Bush took that excess and sent it to Russia. The Russians devoured it, proclaiming the beauty of such enormous drumsticks, and to this day chicken hindquarters in Russian are often called “Bush’s Legs.”

I continue, discussing the many ways chickens exemplify and, in some ways, help to explain certain political changes. Enjoy.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Will April 20, 2012 at 6:31 am

“Uzbekistan is now paying its teachers and doctors in poultry…”
– Let’s not forget that a district council’s decision anywhere in the world does not mean the measure is implemented at the national level. Such a misrepresentation of truth by journalists would only serve to discredit the journalists themselves in the eyes of readers. This was first reported by Rferl, then taken up by others, including Registan. If you read the original source, you notice that the headline and the sensational first paragraph are misleading.

Ozodlik recently reported that in Andijan chicks are being distributed to poor families for free, while vegetable seeds are sold to general population at subsidized prices ( But I didn’t see any news agency saying the Uzbek government distributed chickens to poor families for free.

Will April 20, 2012 at 6:41 am

By district council’s decision I mean the selling Serbian chicks to public sector employees in Vobkent district. The cabinet of ministers directed the regions to encourage the production of poultry and vegetables locally, and it is the local governments who are making the decision on how to implement the policy. That is my take from reading different sources.

acıgöl April 25, 2012 at 4:15 am

This was first reported by Rferl, then taken up by others, including Registan The cabinet of ministers directed the regions to encourage the production of poultry and vegetables

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