Winner of the 2018 Science in Society Award. Named a Best Science Book of 2017 by Amazon, Smithsonian, and Science News; an Essential Science Read by Wired; a Best Health Book by the Toronto Globe and Mail; a Best Food Book of 2017 by Civil Eats and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and one of 2018's Books All Georgians Should Read.

In this eye-opening exposé, acclaimed health journalist and National Geographic contributor Maryn McKenna documents how antibiotics transformed chicken from local delicacy to industrial commodity—and human health threat—uncovering the ways we can make America's favorite meat safer again. 

What you eat matters—for your health, for the environment, and for future generations. In this riveting investigative narrative, McKenna dives deep into the world of modern agriculture by way of chicken: from the farm where it's raised directly to your dinner table. Consumed more than any other meat in the United States, chicken is emblematic of today's mass food-processing practices and their profound influence on our lives and health. Tracing its meteoric rise from scarce treat to ubiquitous global commodity, McKenna reveals the astounding role of antibiotics in industrial farming, documenting how and why "wonder drugs" revolutionized the way the world eats—and not necessarily for the better. Rich with scientific, historical, and cultural insights, this spellbinding cautionary tale shines a light on one of America's favorite foods—and shows us the way to safer, healthier eating for ourselves and our children.

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Praise and Reviews of Big Chicken

John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers

“Always curious, never pedantic, Maryn McKenna shows empathy for man and sympathy for fowl, while giving voice to scientists and farmers who have concluded that antibiotic-drugged chickens imperil the American diet. Big Chicken is beautifully written, rendering her research and the agitations of reformers all that more persuasive.”

Tom Colicchio, Chef of Crafted Hospitality and Co-founder of Food Policy Action

“Big Chicken is a fascinating story of big food and the price we pay for cheap food.”

Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, and author of Food Politics

“If you think raising farm animals on antibiotics is nothing to worry about, Big Chicken will change your mind in a hurry. McKenna, a compelling writer, tells a gripping story: how antibiotics helped transform chicken-raising from backyard to industrial. Her account of the profit-driven politics that allowed widespread antibiotic resistance should be required reading for anyone who cares about food and health, and especially for congressional representatives who have consistently failed to take action on this critical issue­.”

Barry Estabrook, author of Pig Tales

“Agribusiness's headlong quest to put "a chicken in every pot" has come at a tremendous cost: Feeding modern medicine's most valuable antibiotics to healthy farm animals has made these wonder drugs impotent, resulting in thousands on once-preventable human deaths each year. Through solid research and compelling narration, McKenna tells the story of how we allowed this to happen and points to ways to stop the unfolding catastrophe--before it's too late.”

Martin Blaser, MD, author of Missing Microbes, Professor of Medicine and Microbiology at New York University

“A modern Upton Sinclair, Maryn McKenna explains how our food is actually produced today. Big Chicken is highly readable, shocking, and opens our eyes to the risks we have been incurring. A most important book!”

Jill Isenbarger, CEO of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

“Big Chicken gathers a colorful cast of characters to piece together the history behind our culture’s massive overuse of antibiotics in chicken production, illuminating the unintended consequence of drug resistance around the globe. Through stories of place-based agriculture from France to Georgia, McKenna leads us toward an alternative future of food that relies on farmer knowledge, promotes biodiversity and results in great-tasting, antibiotic-free chicken.”

Thomas R. Frieden, MD, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Maryn McKenna has told an important and frightening story — and told it well. As McKenna makes clear, getting antibiotics out of routine chicken production will make our food tastier and safer.”

Anna Lappé, author of Diet of a Hot Planet

“This is a warning: Read this book and you will never look at bucket of fried chicken the same. In this tour de force, investigative journalist Maryn McKenna hunts down the history of antibiotics in the food chain, showing the missteps and collusion that brought us to a worldwide epidemic of antibiotic resistant bacteria that could undermine our most powerful public health tool. Every now and then I read a book that I believe holds the power to radically remake the world for the better. McKenna’s Big Chicken is just such a book.”

Dan Fagin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Toms River

“Maryn McKenna's enthralling book is ostensibly about chicken but is really about us: the foolish choices we have made and the happier, healthier future that awaits us all if we liberate this most American of foods from the drug fix we have imposed on it. Her deep, careful reporting respects every nuance but builds to a clarion call that is as persuasive as it is profound. So let the cry echo throughout the land, from the egg farms of the Delmarva Peninsula to the bistros of San Francisco: Let chicken be chicken again!”


“Solid, eye-opening public health journalism.”

Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything

“Maryn McKenna has led the charge against rampant antibiotic use and the resultant superbugs. Here, in a page-turning story, she tells how chicken became the symbol of factory farming, and why we can finally be hopeful this dreadful era is drawing to a close. A must-read for anyone who cares about the quality of food and the welfare of animals.” Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything

Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize winning writer and author of The Coming Plague

“You will never look at BBQ chicken wings or buckets of nuggets the same way again after you read Maryn McKenna’s meticulously researched, riveting Big Chicken—and you shouldn’t. After all, the only reason that chicken is so darned fat is that it was fed antibiotics every day of its life. Brava, McKenna, for a tour de force of environmental, science and food writing.”Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize winning writer and author of The Coming Plague

Dr. Jeremy Farrar, Director of The Wellcome Trust

“Drug-resistant infections are among the greatest challenges of our time, threatening the foundations of modern medicine. Maryn McKenna makes this challenge personal and compelling, illustrating how antibiotic resistance has been developing, why we should care, and what we should all demand if society is to address it.”

Richard E. Besser, M.D., President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

“Maryn McKenna is one of the best journalists in America reporting on public health. In her latest book, Big Chicken, she shows how modern chicken production and drug resistant infections are part of the same problem. This important book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand why our approach to producing food is unsustainable and the changes we must make if we don't want to return to a pre-antibiotic era. I love chicken wings but I will never again look at them in the same way.”

“In Big Chicken, McKenna chronicles in exquisite detail how humanity went from developing antibiotics to prevent the world’s worst bacteria, to standing on the verge of an onslaught of unstoppable diseases.”

Paul Willis, founder of Niman Ranch Pork Company

“I encourage everyone to read Big Chicken and learn more about where their food comes from, and more importantly, how it is raised. Maryn McKenna’s book offers a persuasive understanding as to why it is imperative to support what is best for the animal, the farmer, public health, the environment, and the customer.”

Lance B. Price, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center

“Maryn McKenna is the leading journalist worldwide on antibiotic overuse and resistance, and in BIG CHICKEN she tells a crucial part of that story: the vast misuse and overuse of antibiotics in industrial farming. Antibiotic resistance is a global emergency, and agricultural use of antibiotics is a key part of that crisis. This clear, urgent explanation of how we got here and what’s at risk should be required reading for anyone who wants to see change happen.”


“This superb scientific exposé by journalist Maryn McKenna skewers the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in chicken feed.”

Past events:

The Hay Festival | the Edinburgh Book Festival | the Texas Book Festival | the Virginia Festival of the Book | the AJC Decatur Book Festival | the Georgia Center for the Book

Science Museum, London | Congreso Futuro, Santiago | Thought for Food | Extinction and Livestock | Slow Food Nations | Reducetarian Summit | Mill City Grows | Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner | Factory Farm Summit | SciFoo | the Atlanta Science Tavern | the Chattanooga Science Cafe | Caveat | Town Hall Seattle | TEDxYouth CEHS | SciCommCamp

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Association of Public Health Laboratories | Northeast Georgia Infection Prevention Symposium | MASCO Boston | MassPIRG | First Year Experience | ALA | Southern Independent Booksellers Association

Yale University | Harvard Law School | Brandeis University | Boston University | University of Massachusetts, Lowell | MIT | University of California, Berkeley | Young Harris College | University of North Alabama | University of Washington | Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center | Vassar College | Emory University | Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security | George Washington University | Spellman College | University of Western Ontario | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Harvard Book Store | Book Passage | Malaprop's | Avid Book Shop | A Cappella Books | Magers & Quinn

The Association of Health Care Journalists | World Conference of Science Journalists | European Conference of Science Journalists


Big Chicken has appeared on these shows and podcasts:

Fresh Air with Terry Gross | The Splendid Table | Gastropod | Science Friday | Real Food Media | The Leonard Lopate Show, WYNC | Heritage Radio Network’s A Taste of the Past | Science for the People | XRay in the Morning, Portland | PRI “Living on Earth” | Heritage Radio Network’s  What Doesn’t Kill You | 1A, WAMU | Read Science! | Catskill Review of Books | On Second Thought, Georgia Public Broadcasting | Food Sleuth Radio, PRX | Intelligent Medicine | Background Mode | Progressive Spirit, Pacifica | the Methods Podcast | Knowledge@Wharton, SiriusXM | The Joan Hamburg Show, WABC NY | The Jefferson Exchange | Scientific American Podcast | That Got Me Thinking | Utah Public Radio | Good Food, KCRW | Radio Boston, WBUR |  Moments with Marianne |  Top of Mind with Julie Rose, BYU Radio | CSPAN | The Organic Farm Stead, WPKN  | Food Integrity Now | Eat Your Words | Up to Date, KCUR | The Meatcast | Majority Report | WSJ's The Future of Everything | Eating Matters | One Life Radio