December 11, 2017

Chickenowski’s chicken

A leading article for The Ecologist Vol. 1 No. 15, September 1971. Republished in The Doomsday Funbook (Jon Carpenter Books, February 2006).

See ordering information for the Funbook.


An announcement has rocked the business world and provided yet further proof of the infinite capacities of modern technology.

Professor Milton K. Chickenowski of Nuneaton University has developed (with the aid of a generous grant from the National Research Council) a solid-state electromechanical chicken.

Chickenowski’s chicken (as it is familiarly known in the Nuneaton Laboratories) is programmed by means of a £1 million RB211 Honeywell Computer (an integral part of the device) to lay eggs with the following choice of characteristics:

Shapes: 4 possibilities – flat for sandwiches; square for easy packing; oval for traditionalists; and chicken-shaped for fancy food stores.

Contents: 5 possibilities – yolk and white in equal parts, arranged in layers for convenience; white only (standard or aerosol-white for meringues and soufflés); yolk only; either soft-boiled or hard-boiled (regardless of cooking time). This remarkable device, once programmed, can be operated by a single unskilled man, and requires routine servicing no more than once a month by personnel with easily acquired mechanical and electronic know-how. Is this science-fiction?

No. Chickenowski’s chickens are being invented every day – that is what progress is all about. Yet is it really progress? It is held up to be so, simply because of its economic advantages. But a little thought will make it apparent that these are quite illusory.

First of all, a real chicken reproduces itself: once you buy a couple, you need never buy any more. Chickenowski’s chicken is sterile: it can last a few years – to be generous, let us say ten – then you simply have to buy another. The longer the period over which you calculate your costs, the more uneconomic does it appear: over 100 years it costs proportionately 10 times more than a real chicken, over 1000, a hundred times more, etc. Secondly, the real chicken grows by absorbing food available in the field where it lives, or should live.

Chickenowski’s chicken is made, with the aid of fossil fuels, from all sorts of mechanical and electronic components, in turn made from metals, all of which have to be extracted from deep down in the earth’s crust – leaving scarred and derelict land where once were virgin forests. These resources have to be shipped across the seas, refined in vast factories, and used for making the appropriate components, which must then be assembled.

At each step, wastes are produced – some of them very toxic – and these are dumped into our rivers and seas or allowed to contaminate the air in the form of poisonous gases. By contrast, the wastes produced by a real chicken serve as essential organic manure, without which crops could not thrive and people would be less well nourished.

Apart from this, the food the chicken feeds on is selfrenewing, while the metals required to make Chickenowski’s chicken and the fuel needed to power it are not: and what is more, the world’s stock is fast running out. As our economy is entirely geared to the short term, the commercial prices for these resources simply reflect the relationship between the immediate demand and the supply. If it were to reflect that between the long-term demand and the long-term supply, prices would be very much higher.

Apart from this, by allowing Chickenowski’s chicken to replace a real one, we are forcing people who once led a pleasant healthy life in a stable rural community, looking after real chickens, to lead an unpleasant and unhealthy life in the urban wastelands where Chickenowski’s chickens tend to be made.

In addition, it is presumptuous to suppose that the synthetic eggs laid by Chickenowski’s chicken will provide as sound a diet as those to which we have been adapted by millions of years of evolution.

If Chickenowski’s chicken is regarded as economic, it is only that our economists are working in a vacuum and that, in their calculations, they have failed to take into account all those costs which are conventionally regarded as falling outside the compass of their pathetically inadequate discipline.

If these costs were taken into account, it would become quite apparent that Chickenowski’s chicken is totally uneconomic, and that its introduction, rather than constitute progress, is a significant step in the march of regress to which our industrial culture is ever further committing us. Our economists are, in the next few years, going to be totally discredited, unless they begin to understand that a nation’s wealth cannot be increased by the short-term gimmickry of modern science and technology, but only by observing sound ecological principles.

They must realise too that there is no rivalry between ecology and a realistic economics; only between ecology and modern economics.

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