Economic bright spot: Chicken Wing shortage not so dire

You may have heard the news. Howard Stern has brought it up. Stephen Colbert devoted six minutes to it the other night on his show. Nation, we have a problem, on top of the foreclosures, the credit crunch, all of the job losses... there is a chicken wing shortage.

That said -- and, no, I'm not really suggesting this is anywhere in the same sphere as losing a job -- just as many media outlets are reporting that if you really want a chicken wing this Super Bowl Sunday, you'll be able to get them.

Here's a quick primer on the chicken wing shortage.The reason behind the chicken wing shortage: Last year, the biggest chicken wing supplier in the country, the Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride, filed for bankruptcy and is in the middle of an organization, and so now we have a shortage of chicken wings at a time when chicken wings are in great demand. The company hasn't stopped distributing chicken wings, but it has cut down its production.

What this means to you: Right now, hopefully nothing. Many restaurant owners say that they're going to absorb the costs this weekend. For starters, if you're a restaurant, your menus have been printed, and so it's not easy to change the price, and owners are wary of chasing customers away when they really need them. But it seems like a safe bet that the restaurants eventually will have to raise costs if the shortage continues. Sam Musolino, owner of Sammy's Pizzeria near Niagara Falls, NY, told a Buffalo TV station that he pays around $85 for 40 pounds of wings; he was paying about half that before the shortage.

Will there really be a shortage this Sunday? Probably not. The shortage may drive up prices in some places, but the National Chicken Council put out a release this week, with its director of communications, Richard Lobb, saying, "Eat all you want. There are plenty more." And Tyson Foods Inc. has told the press that it is doing its part to push out all the chicken wings that it can, in honor of this most American of weekends.

But if you want to look for cheaper alternatives: Turkey wings, anyone? The Los Angeles Times recently published a turkey wing recipe that looks good. And there's a potato chip that's based on the chicken wing, called Buffalo Nickel Wingers, that looks interesting; they're sold in New York City and at Whole Foods in the mid-Atlantic and southwestern states. Granted, if you're a big chicken fan, you'd probably want to eat Wingers with chicken wings, but still... and, of course, there are always tofu wings. But let's not talk of such things...

The best sign that there are enough chicken wings to go around: Buffalo Wild Wings in Meridan, Idaho, several days ago offered free chicken wings for a year to the first 100 guests at its restaurant, which opened last Thursday. More than 100 people stood in line outside, and a few dozen were in sleeping bags for most of the night -- this is Idaho; we're talking very cold weather -- and won their prize. If a restaurant's willing to give 100 people free chicken wings for a year, there may be a shortage, but it's probably not a full blown national crisis. Not yet, anyway.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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