In my opinion, the chicken nugget from McDonald’s is the prime example of what is wrong in our food culture.
And to be fair, I had McDonald’s yesterday. I’ve been stepping away from fast food lately, but yesterday I felt sick, and after a frustrating day of trying to find dress shoes that would accommodate my shoe inserts and leg braces, I just wanted to get some food and rest at home, ignoring the fact that I still have no shoes to wear to work. So my mom and I went through the drive-thru at McDonald’s, and mom got some chicken nuggets.
Growing up, I was incredibly picky about the texture of my food, and I rarely ate anything in nugget form. I couldn’t manage it. But then Africa happened, and I was expected to eat any form of meat product without complaint or grimace, goat nose included. So I picked up one of these unformed-shaped food-like nuggets yesterday and decided to try one. I never could figure out why people ate these, let alone craved or relished them, so I wanted to give it an objective try.
The sponge-like chicken was encased in a hot, perfectly crispy shell that had a delicate crunch as I bit into it, and an intense chicken flavor filled my mouth. And I got it. No, a McDonald’s chicken nugget isn’t gourmet dining, but it tasted good and was fast and easy. All things considered, it was cheap too.
But in my opinion, it’s not food. It a mish-mash of chicken slurry that’s artificially flavored with who-knows-what, encased with a golden brown, smooth coating made out of ingredients I likely don’t have in my kitchen. It’s assembled in a factory, cooked, frozen, and shipped to my local McDonald’s, where it’s unfrozen and fried, hot and ready to hand through the drive thru window.
That’s not how food should be made.
After reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and Food Rules, I’ve come to understand that we simply can’t call this food. Did my great-grandparents each chicken nuggets? I doubt it. And if they did, it wasn’t fried and handed out a window for them to consume on the go. Can I pronounce all the ingredients in a chicken nugget? Hardly. And I certainly won’t be finding them in my kitchen.
Here’s what I got from the McDonald’s website:
Ingredients: White Boneless Chicken, Water, Food Starch-Modified, Salt, Seasoning (Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Salt, Wheat Starch, Natural Flavoring [Botanical
Source], Safflower Oil, Dextrose, Citric Acid), Sodium Phosphates, Natural Flavor (Botanical Source). Battered and Breaded with: Water, Enriched Flour (Bleached
Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Yellow Corn Flour, Bleached Wheat Flour, Food Starch-Modified, Salt, Leavening
(Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Lactate), Spices, Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Corn
Prepared in Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil with TBHQ and Citric Acid added to preserve freshness).
Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
Oddly enough, I don’t see any Sodium Aluminum Phosphate or Thiamin Mononitrate in my cupboard.
See, somewhere along the road, we (Americans particularly) started seeing food as a convenience item, not as a social item. Family dinners have fallen to the wayside, unless we call sitting in a car scarfing down food on the way to one thing or another a family dinner. We look for the faster, cheapest, and easiest thing to eat, and then perhaps add “healthy” into the mix. However, our view of what is healthy has become so skewed from the media campaigns coming from the food and healthy industries. Sorry, friends, diet soda doesn’t qualify as healthy.
Low-fat, low-sodium, sugar-free…these are simply not healthy. They are a concoction of synthetic chemicals that we willingly pour into our bodies. If we would just reach for the fruits and vegetables instead, we might find ourselves healthier without navigating the confusing kerfuffle of industry-driven healthy eating.
It’s simple. Eat food that is food. If wouldn’t be recognizable as food to your great-grandparents, don’t eat it. If you can’t make it at home, don’t eat it. And if it has a long ingredient label full of unrecognizable words, don’t eat it.
As I write, a Crystal Lite commercial comes on, proclaiming the healthfulness of their drink mixes. “A delicious fruit flavor with zero calories…a win for anyone!”
I just don’t buy it. This isn’t food and drink. We’ve lost something important in our culture: how we relate to food. And it’s time we reclaim it.
Yes, I ate a chicken nugget today. And I had a cherry pepsi yesterday. I’m not perfect, but I don’t demand perfection. I simply think food is something too important to be relegated to the easiest-cheapest-most-convenient side of life. We need to cook and eat more intentionally. I devote time to cooking things from scratch and to growing my own food because it’s important to me, and I believe it lies at the heart of true sustainability. I’ve changed how I eat this year, and it’s been an interesting journey.
Really, I’m only at the beginning, and I invite you to join along. So push aside those chicken nuggets and join in this journey of real food eating. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Consider only purchasing minimally-processed foods, that is, foods with less than five ingredients. Since it’s summer, start hitting up your local farmer’s market. And stay away from those fast food joints that have menus full of things that are not-quite-food. These are just a few steps in the right direction, but they will have an impact on how you cook and eat.
And stay tuned for more tips on returning to real food and reclaiming our food heritage.