(Reuters) - Earlier this month, Iran's national police chief ventured boldly into what has become known as the country's "chicken crisis." The feathers haven't stopped flying since. The soaring price for a staple food that Iranians relish cooked with saffron, plums or pomegranates has become such a hot topic of public debate, and a sign of the sinking purchasing power of many Iranians, that Police Chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam felt it his duty to intervene. He urged television stations to avoid broadcasting images of people eating chicken, saying such pictures could fire up social tensions, with perhaps unforeseen consequences. "Certain people witnessing this class gap between the rich and the poor might grab a knife and think they will get their share from the wealthy," Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.
As far as is known, no one has gone to that extreme, but as Iran's economy struggles with erratic government management and international sanctions imposed over the country's disputed nuclear program, prices of food and fuel have jumped across the board in the past 18 months. At around 65,000 rials, or over $5 at the official exchange rate, a kilo (2.2 lb) of chicken is now nearly three times the price it was a year ago. That makes it hard to afford for many in a country where gross national income per capita was about $4,520 in 2009, or $377 per month, according to the most recent estimate by the World Bank. The surge in the price is mainly due to the exorbitant cost of importing chicken feed with Iran's weakened currency, which on the black market is more than 40 percent lower against the U.S. dollar than it was at the start of this year.
With chicken becoming rarer on middle- and working-class dinner tables, many Iranians are expressing their frustration with mordant humor. Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani, who lives in France, mocked Ahmadi Moghaddam's warning with a cartoon of a young man watching a pornographic film. His father tries to cover up only the image of a roast chicken in the background of the film, saying: "How many times have I told you not to watch films with chicken in them?" Photographer Arash Ashoorinia published on his website a range of images showing delectable chicken dishes. "It's possible that publishing these kinds of photos will be banned. Of course I had many more beautiful photos, but I wouldn't want to act against national security!" he wrote underneath.
Iran's social networks are buzzing. "There are two classes of people: below the chicken line and above the chicken line," quipped one Twitter posting from a Shiraz resident.