A century ago, chicken barely registered in the meat-heavy American diet. So how did it become the country’s most consumed animal protein, besting beef and pork? In her new book, Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Bird, Emelyn Rude traces the evolution. Poultry first became popular out of necessity during WW II, as rationing saved beef and pork for the soldiers. When the war ended, chicken producers engineered new breeds to whet consumer appetites–bigger, juicier and better for grilling, which had become a popular cooking method in the midcentury suburbs. Meanwhile, a 1961 report from the American Heart Association warned people against eating too much beef. Within a few years, Americans had wholeheartedly embraced poultry, especially dishes like fried chicken and McDonald’s McNuggets–which were, ironically, no healthier than the red meat they were trying to avoid.
This appears in the August 08, 2016 issue of TIME.