Friday, October 8, 2010

Children know food better than adults

I was hoping to have a whole week of military-themed posts but then something so big, so monumental happened that I just didn't have any choice but to change tracks today: the KFC Double Down is finally coming to Canada!

Oh yes, it's true: the 540-calorie monstrosity of a sandwich, with chicken breasts replacing the bun, hits Canadian KFCs on Oct. 18, supposedly for a "limited time" until Nov. 14. I wouldn't bet on it being limited - I suspect it'll be as popular here as it has been in the United States, which means it is destined to become a permanent fixture on KFC's Canadian menu.

Of course, with the announcement came the inevitable wave of food fascists, decrying the sandwich for... well... for being what it is: a pretty serious piece of junk food, what with all the calories, fat and sodium it packs. I'm sure somebody somewhere is whining about how this is making our kids obese, et cetera.

My response to this sort of criticism is always pretty hardline: I like the fact that we live in a country where we're lucky enough to eat whatever we want, no matter how bad it is for us. And if someone is worried about their children (or themselves) getting fat or developing health problems, maybe they just shouldn't eat at KFC, or perhaps they should exercise a little more. But don't rain on anyone else's Colonel parade.

On a related note, there's been a photo/blog post floating around the web lately that has really ticked me off. Some writer named Michael Kindt posted this rather nasty-looking picture on his blog the other day of a pink "meat" paste coming out of some sort of contraption. He said it was what "all fast-food chicken is made from - things like chicken nuggets and patties. Also, the processed frozen chicken in the stores is made from it." His post spread like wildfire, with blogs and media playing it up. I noticed it when a few co-workers looked at the post and made remarks like, "I'm never eating chicken nuggets again!"

The only problem: he's wrong, wrong, wrong. What the picture shows is "mechanically separated meat," which is all the icky bits of an animal ground up that, yes, does look gross. But, in the first instance, it's very rarely used, at least in North America. Mechanically separated beef has been illegal to use since 2004, when it was found that including the central nervous system of cows in the meat could help spread Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow disease). Mechanically separated poultry is perfectly safe, but it must be labelled as such. Food makers, knowing that the public has access to such photos, have largely opted not to use such poultry for fear of the inevitable backlash, such as the false one that's going around now.

Even celebrity chef (and food snob) Jamie Oliver knows this. As he says in the video below, "Thankfully, chicken nuggets in this country are not made this way." In the video, which you should definitely watch, Oliver tries to gross out some American kids by showing them how mechanically separated chicken nuggets are made. His attempt to "blow their minds," however, backfires when the kids all decide they want to eat the nuggets anyway:

I found the video really illuminating for a couple of reasons. Mainly, it's a real showcase of food snobbery (Oliver's). Yes, it's true that the pink paste concoction is disgusting to look at, and perhaps to think about - but so what? If it's not harmful to eat, isn't it actually a more efficient use of the chicken? Just because we've been conditioned to accept only certain parts of the chicken as edible, that doesn't mean the rest of it isn't. As we've done for millenia, if you're going to kill an animal in the first place, shouldn't you use as much of it as possible and not throw away parts needlessly?

That's what amazed me about the children. When Oliver asked them why they still wanted to eat the nuggets, they said, "Because we're hungry." There's a saying that truth often comes from the mouths of babes, and here's a perfect case. The children, who haven't necessarily been conditioned yet to reject food because of how it looks before it's properly presented, recognize that simple truth. Score one for children, and subtract another one from the food fascists.


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