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The Uneasy Case for Chicken Nuggets

October 29, 2013

Chicken nuggets were recently eviscerated in the media earlier this month. Perhaps you saw the news coverage.

It was hardly news. Chicken nuggets aren’t 100% breast meat? Color me shocked. No, as Jamie Oliver showed to a bunch of kids on television, the nuggets are made from a blend of scraps, skin, bone and filler. So yeah, there’s connective tissue in there in addition to nerves and blood vessels.

Have you seen the demo Jamie Oliver did a while back?

Right. So we’re all agreed that these are disgusting foodlike substances made from the worst parts of factory farmed chickens, but cleverly engineered to taste good. They are full of fat, anti-foaming agents, and God knows what else. But they are salty, crispy, juicy, and meaty.

So how can I of all people have anything good to say about them?

America has a food waste problem, and it’s huge. This article cites an EPA figure that in 2011 we had 36 million tons of food waste. In a country where people are going hungry, this is unconscionable.

The Fussy Little Children are learning from a very early age that we don’t waste food. Crusts of bread get eaten; leftovers get turned into savory bread pudding, stir fry, frittata, etc.; dinner portions are kept small (with seconds encouraged) to make sure we eat everything that we take.

And when it comes to meat, we take extra care to use it all up. The children are aware that some animal had to die for our nutrition and pleasure and we want to make sure to honor that sacrifice.

Young Master Fussy gets to eat the bacon fat scrambled eggs. The lucky bastard. And all of our weekly chicken carcasses go into the freezer to await the stockpot once I have a critical mass in the boneyard.

Not every last scrap gets used, but we do the best we can, and likely better than most.

In many ways, the snout to tail movement is all about reducing our food waste. It’s about respecting the gift of nutrition we receive from this once live and sentient being. It’s about honoring the labor of the farmer and all of the time and effort it took raising this animal from birth to slaughter.

Factory farmed chickens don’t have a great life. They are kept in dirty and crowded conditions, given questionable substances in their feed, and medicated regularly. Still, they ultimately will be processed into food for the majority of the chicken-eating world.

After all the major muscles have been removed from the carcass, it would be wrong to waste what remains of the chicken.

Chicken nuggets, which utilize some of the least desirable parts of the bird, minimize waste.

Look, if you don’t want to eat lamb kidneys, that’s fine. Each lamb only has two. And if you don’t want to eat chicken nuggets, that’s fine too. My argument isn’t that you should eat them. My argument is that they shouldn’t be vilified.

And if you do choose to eat them in moderation, I think you can feel good about the fact that you are doing your part to prevent food waste. But just don’t forget that this is among the junkiest of the junk foods. Bone marrow and chicken livers aren’t that great for you either, but for those who find them delicious they are a very special sometimes treat.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2013 11:34 am

    That’s a refreshing perspective. It’s pretty interesting how close the find dining concept of using the whole animal comes to the fast food version.

  2. Debra permalink
    October 29, 2013 11:59 am

    What a fabulous argument. I really hadn’t thought about it from your perspective. Great blog Daniel. (gotta say, I chuckled when all the kids raised their hands when he asked if they still would eat it after he showed them all the steps)

  3. October 29, 2013 1:03 pm

    Bacon Fat Fried Eggs – That was one of my favorite memories about camping as a child. My parents had this old propane burner and a long iron griddle pan. The bacon would fry up and the grease would be used to fry the eggs and home fries.

    Nothing beats Bacon Fat Fried Eggs, outdoors in the fresh air with a morning fire to sit around.

    I need to learn to appreciate the small things again, in this busy world.

  4. October 30, 2013 6:20 am

    I won’t lie….I’m scared of chicken nuggets and hotdogs. But all the other bits, I’m game (blood sausage, sweetbreads, head cheese, liver, etc.). I think I’m more comfortable if I or someone I know prepares it. Maybe it’s the big vats?? My friends say it’s mental. You’ve given me reason to try again!

  5. Amy permalink
    October 31, 2013 12:50 pm

    It’s always boggled my mind that children (and some adults) who are picky eaters think vegetables are “gross” but will gladly eat chicken nuggets.

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