Wingin' it on Super Bowl Sunday? Stock up while you can

Wingin' it on Super Bowl Sunday? Stock up while you can

By William C. Bailey

Recall the national attention, and concern, generated just before Thanksgiving when the country's largest turkey producer indicated the possibility of a shortage of large, fresh turkeys. There is a major national celebration that will soon be upon us, and the question may again arise — might another poultry shortage befall the American public? The day of the possible shortage is Super Bowl Sunday. And the possible shortage would be chicken wings, not turkeys.

Having worked for the U.S. government for a while, I am used to large numbers. But chicken wing numbers impress me. On Super Bowl Sunday, it is estimated that more than 1.2 billion chicken wings will be consumed. Assuming a population of 314 million people, that comes in at almost four wings per person. That is an incredible number of wings and, assuming two wings per chicken, this means a lot of chickens (600 million) have devoted their existence to the Super Bowl. There have been Super Bowl "wing shortage alerts" several times in the past — 2009, 2010 and 2013. Last year, the National Chicken Council put out a news release blaming the potential wing shortage on corn producers selling their corn to the ethanol industry rather than to poultry producers.

Frankly, past concerns about potential Super Bowl chicken wing shortages have escaped me. I am not a big chicken wing fan. Growing up, fried chicken was always served at Sunday dinner. My dad got the thighs, my mom the breast, my sister the legs and I, as the youngest, was left with wings — and the neck unless my mother was still hungry. Since those Sunday dinners, what I viewed as the lowly chicken wing has evolved and moved up the food chain. Various sauces — cool ranch, momofuku octo vinaigrette or baked bourbon — are now layered on wings in an attempt to further spice them up. While I am still not a wing fan, the idea of peanut butter and jelly wings really does resonant. And there is an international component to this issue. U.S. chicken wings consist of the first two, meaty, joints of the wing. The third joint, called the flapper, ends up taking a trip to Asia, where it is readily consumed.

We will know soon if the National Chicken Council issues another "wing shortage alert." Such alerts seem to appear about two weeks before the Super Bowl, which this year will be played Feb. 2. So stay tuned. For me, a key part of the "alert," if there is one, will be if ethanol is linked to any shortage of chicken wings. U.S. corn farmers this season produced the largest crop in history, and corn prices have fallen more than 40 percent since the last Super Bowl. Perhaps the National Chicken Council could thank U.S. corn producers for their part in making 1.2 billion chicken wings available for the Super Bowl. Go Broncos and Seahawks.

William C. Bailey, a professor at Western Illinois University, formerly was the chief economist for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition. He also has served as deputy under secretary of agriculture.

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