Caroline Cummins is Culinate’s managing editor. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and cat in Portland, Oregon.

Chicken McNuggets

Not from these birds

By
December 29, 2008

Sure, Culinate is a food website. But sometimes we just find ourselves scratching our collective heads about the press releases that come our way. Take the recent announcement from the National Chicken Council (NCC) that they’ve launched a consumer food website of their own, EatChicken.com.

EatChicken.com looks like a pretty ordinary site, with such innocuous-sounding sections as “Cookbook Reviews” and “Cooking Tips” and the amusingly titled “Show a Little Leg,” which encourages chicken eaters to try — gasp! — the dark meat on chicken thighs and legs instead of sticking with boring old chicken breast. But as the press release proudly points out, the website is also deep in the fryer with McDonald’s, EatChicken.com’s next “Showcase of Chicken” partner.

Apparently the NCC “spotlights a different restaurant group each quarter, looking for operators that create new and innovative uses of chicken for their menus.” Mickey D’s is tops in this; as the press release says, “McDonald’s chicken innovations date back to 1983, when they first introduced the McNugget.”

chicken tracks in snow
Chicken tracks in the snow, next to the electrical cord powering the heat lamp in their coop.

Should you be so lucky as to be designated a Showcase of Chicken partner, you, too, will be honored appropriately for your clever uses of mass-produced chicken. The McDonald’s showcase, for example, “features an homage to the McNugget and its 25th anniversary celebration.”

In case that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy enough, here’s a quote from George Watts, the president of the NCC: “McDonald’s continues to come up with new chicken menu items that meet today’s consumer demand for health, convenience, and bold flavor.”

Hm. Convenience? Maybe. Bold flavor? Well, those mustard- and barbecue-flavored dips that come with the salty McNuggets are pretty brash. And health? Uh, I don’t think so.

But if you’re writing a press release, you spin all that into this:

The result is a window into the complex world of creating recipes that satisfy a broad audience while offering a unique, strong appeal.

Can’t argue with that.

Now, I like to think of my chicken coop as its own Showcase of Chicken: three large, plump, finely feathered friends, all balanced neatly on their roost (and currently staying a toasty 50 degrees or so, thanks to the heat lamp inside their snow-covered coop). I admit to eating a few of my chickens in the past; they were flavorful and very chewy, quite the opposite of Chicken McNuggets. Somehow, though, I bet that the idea of raising flavorful birds hasn’t occurred to the McDonald’s recipe developers, who supposedly “explore over 1,500 new recipe concepts each year.”

three chickens
Stevie, Snoop, and Tuffy, enjoying a rare burst of winter sunshine on their snowy chicken run.

According to Dan Coudreaut, Mickey D’s executive chef and director of culinary innovation, what customers have are “adventurous palates” and what they want are “bold flavors.” So what does his restaurant corporation offer them? The “Zesty flavors of the Premium Southwest Salad” and the “Worldly ingredients of the Premium Asian Salad.”

And the company’s “boldest chicken innovation” yet? This year’s introduction of “its first-ever, chicken-for-breakfast offering,” the Southern-Style Chicken Biscuit. Even without gravy (heresy!), the fried-chicken-and-biscuit sandwich has been a hit. “Our customers are clearly embracing the concept of chicken-for-breakfast,” says Neil Golden, McDonald’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

Me, I think I’ll stick with eggs from my own birds for breakfast.

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1. by caleb bo baleb on Dec 31, 2008 at 9:27 AM PST

I’d like to point out that the Cajun Filet Biscuit from Bojangles’ I had a few days ago also did not come with gravy. I knew there was something missing.

2. by Caroline Cummins on Dec 31, 2008 at 10:57 AM PST

Yeah, biscuits without gravy are like North Carolina barbecue without the vinegar sauce. Or a pulled-pork sandwich without coleslaw. You need that liquid, otherwise you might as well just walk into the local cotton fields and eat a wad of white fluff.

3. by Syd on Mar 20, 2009 at 10:15 PM PDT

“Show a little leg...” Sadly as they try to get Americans to eat legs and thighs, we still aren’t eating the other “unsavory” parts that come with every chicken such as backs and innards which was one reason we even ended up with McNuggets. A clever way to disguise mystery meat. Making McDonald’s the Corporate Lunch Lady.

The tragic part of this is by separating out the parts of the chicken is we then dump those extra bits (including the feet) on countries such as Haiti which makes their food crisis all the worse since our picky tastes and wasteful ways undercut their own food systems which are no longer cost-effective. This practice turns them into unproductive and poorer but dependent consumers (much as we do with the US Food Aid system to African countries).

That I won’t eat those parts myself is one of the main reasons I stopped eating chicken. Having a bowl of upside down bodiless feet plopped down in front of me at a Dim Sum lunch drove it home for me. I was so surprised when I first started being around real live chickens years later and found out how warm their legs and feet are.

But every time I hear or read about efforts to get us to eat more legs or see a deal on thighs I think of the people of Haiti and how the world can turn on the chicken eaten in Oregon or Vermont or...

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