Terry Gross | KUOW News and Information

Terry Gross

The chicken for sale at your local grocery store isn't like the chicken your grandparents used to eat. They're bigger and more "breasty," says public health journalist Maryn McKenna — and that's by design.

"In the United States, we much prefer to eat white meat, and so we have bred chickens and genetically redesigned chickens in order for them to have a lot of breast meat," McKenna says. She attributes the change in poultry to factors like precision breeding, hormones and nutrition, but adds, "Antibiotics started this process."

New York Times columnist Lindy West knows what it's like to encounter a barrage of Internet hate. West, who often writes about feminist issues and body positivity, was "doxxed" by Internet trolls — her home address and cell phone number were posted online.

But West hasn't been silenced; she continues to speak out against harassment and misogyny. In her book Shrill, she writes about learning to like her body and to insist on a place for herself in public life.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, actor Jonathan Groff was a Disney-obsessed kid who dressed up as Mary Poppins and Cinderella and dreamed of one day performing on Broadway.

Other parents might have balked at a little boy dressed in women's clothing and singing show tunes — but not Groff's mother. "She didn't bat an eye," he says. "She was all about letting us express ourselves however we wanted to, which was amazing."

Growing up an only child in Massachusetts, humorist John Hodgman longed to be considered interesting. In high school, he grew his hair out, wore a fedora and carried a briefcase in an effort to look like Doctor Who.

Hodgman says his look was modeled on "the fourth Doctor Who ... which was an emotionally terrified weirdo who is tricking people into thinking he was interesting by wearing funny clothes."

On July 17, 2014, an unarmed black man named Eric Garner died on Staten Island, N.Y., after police officers threw him to the ground and put him in a choke hold. Garner's last words, as recorded on a cellphone video, were: "I can't breathe." He repeated the phrase 11 times.

As someone who lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder, novelist John Green sometimes feels like his mind is spiraling uncontrollably.

"It starts out with one little thought, and then slowly that becomes the only thought that you're able to have," Green says. "It's like there's an invasive weed that just spreads out of control."

Growing up as a first-generation Chinese-American in Northern California, novelist Amy Tan found herself pulled by two different notions of fate: Her mother was guided by beliefs in curses and luck, while her father, a Baptist minister, was guided by Christian faith.

As a result, Tan says, "I am full of contradictions. ... I am full of wavering questions."

The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of eight hours of sleep per night for adults, but sleep scientist Matthew Walker says that too many people are falling short of the mark.

"Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain," Walker says. "Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it."

It's not uncommon for comics to be influenced by depression, anxiety or troubled childhoods, but Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon insists his comedy doesn't come from a dark place.

"I was always a happy kid," Fallon says. "I remember there was a report card from kindergarten and the comment from the teacher was, 'Jimmy smiles too much,' which was very interesting. ... I think I would smile even when I was getting yelled at."

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Tom Petty, leader of The Heartbreakers and member of The Traveling Wilburys, died Monday night from cardiac arrest. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was 66 years old.

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast is a city person. She grew up in an apartment building in Brooklyn, N.Y., and though she moved to the suburbs as an adult when she was pregnant with her second child, she never stopped loving the grit and excitement of New York City.

"Just about every street in Manhattan has that kind of density of visual information," she says. "It's just fun. I like looking at it. Everything seems to suggest stories."

Is it possible to create a realistic television series about the commodification of sex workers and porn actors without being exploitative? That's the dilemma David Simon and George Pelecanos faced while creating their new HBO series, The Deuce.

"We didn't particularly want to do a show about pornography," Pelecanos says. "David and I worked on this for two or three years before we shot any film, and it was continually on our minds: How were we going to approach it?"

David Litt was 24 years old and just a few years out of college when he landed a job writing speeches for President Barack Obama — an experience he calls "surreal and completely terrifying."

Though he was initially assigned the speeches no one else wanted to write, Litt eventually became a special assistant to the president and senior presidential speechwriter. His duties included writing jokes for the short comedy routine Obama performed annually at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinners.

When filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick began research for a 10-part PBS documentary on the Vietnam War, they thought they knew the material. After all, Burns was of draft age in 1970, though his draft number was too high for him to be called to serve.

But as they began interviewing subjects and sorting through archival footage, Burns and Novick soon came to appreciate just how complicated the war was. "We went in, both of us, with this kind of arrogance about it, and immediately had that blown out of the water," Burns says. "We realized we knew nothing."

During Donald Trump's campaign for president, there were times at his rallies when he singled out one reporter for criticism. Katy Tur, who covered the Trump campaign for NBC News and MSNBC, remembers those instances vividly.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, first responders rushed to ground zero in Manhattan, where they braved dangerous conditions to rescue people buried in the rubble, retrieve the remains of the dead and clear the debris. Among them was demolition supervisor John Feal.

Feal arrived at ground zero on Sept. 12; just five days later, he was seriously injured when an 8,000-pound piece of steel fell and crushed his foot.

You know that feeling when you envy someone because they're more successful, or you think they have a better life? That kind of jealousy can hit you in an almost physical way, even though you know better.

If John le Carré's espionage novels seem particularly authentic, it may be because the author has first-hand experience. Le Carré worked as a spy for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 early in his writing career, and only left the field after his third book, 1963's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, became an international best-seller.

Comedian, actor and director Jerry Lewis died Sunday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.

When comic and cabaret performer Bridget Everett takes the stage, she really takes over. Everett, who is 6 feet tall and plus size, has been known to sit in audience members' laps and even coddle their heads between her breasts during her raunchy live act. "Somebody used to call me a cabaret hurricane," she says.

In the event of a zombie attack, author Max Brooks will be ready. His books The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z are fictional manifestations of his own fears and anxieties — and his impulse to overcome them by preparing for the worst.

"The notion of learning how to survive when the old world rules no longer apply ... pretty much sums up everything I write about," Brooks says.

Growing up in southwestern Virginia in recent decades, poet Molly McCully Brown often passed by a state institution in Amherst County that was once known as the "Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded."

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Today, the typical American grocery store might devote an entire aisle to breakfast cereal, but that wasn't always the case. In fact, boxed cereals were an invention of the 20th century, designed and marketed by two brothers from Michigan.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg had first conceived of a healthy, plant-based breakfast in his capacity as the director of the Seventh-day Adventist sanitarium in Battle Creek, Mich. His younger brother, Will, was the business innovator, who figured out how to market John's creation.

Are human beings hard-wired to be perpetually dissatisfied? Author Robert Wright, who teaches about the interface of evolutionary biology and religion, thinks so.

Wright points out that evolution rewards people for seeking out pleasure rather than pain, which helps ensure that human beings are frequently unsatisfied: "We are condemned to always want things to be a little different, always want a little more," he says. "We're not designed by natural selection to be happy."

As a climate change activist, former Vice President Al Gore is used to speaking in front of both hostile and friendly audiences. But there is one individual he has all but given up on.

"I have no illusions about the possibility of changing Donald Trump's mind," Gore says. "I think he has made it abundantly clear that he's throwing his lot in with the climate deniers."

New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy was five months pregnant when she went to Mongolia on assignment. Her doctor had cleared her for travel, and she was excited to pursue one last adventurous story before settling down with an infant.

But things didn't go as planned: Alone in her hotel room, Levy suffered a placental abruption; her baby boy lived for only 10 minutes. Afterward, Levy was haunted by the notion that she had caused her child's death:

"It's a terrible feeling ... that you made this life and failed to bring it through," she says.

It's a time-honored tradition for novelists to draw material from their own lives, and author Tom Perrotta is no exception. His 2004 book, Little Children, sprang from his experience as the parent of young kids. Three years later, he published The Abstinence Teacher, which was inspired, in part, by the junior-high and high-school sports his children played at the time.

Pages