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When average American shoppers go down the meat aisle, they take a look at the packages of chicken and almost always reach for the white meat. That means a whole lot of leftover legs for U.S. chicken producers to walk off. Why do we like chicken breasts so much — and how can we cross over to the dark side?
That first question is pretty easy. "People don't like to be reminded that when they eat meat, it's actually part of an animal," food writer Nadia Arumugam tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "When you have a chicken leg in front of you, there's no denying that's an animal limb." Shoppers may also perceive dark meat as fattier and less healthy. There is a little more fat in legs, Arumugam says, but only a few calories worth. On the plus side, dark meat is rich in nutrients like iron and vitamin B, Arumugam says, "so you're really getting a good nutritional boost with dark meat."
"There's a whole rest of the world that loves dark meat," she says. That includes Russia, where, until recently, America's unloved chicken legs were being sent. "I think of this as a sort of yin-yang of cultural predilections," Arumugam says. Now Russia wants to wean itself off imported American chicken and boost its own poultry market, which leaves American chicken producers with a dilemma: how to make dark meat more appealing to finicky consumers.