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Chicken Nugget Girl and the Fate of the Free World

From the annals of weird but true stories comes this “nugget” from the UK:  A 17 year old British girl who has eaten almost nothing but chicken nuggets since she was two years old, collapsed recently and had to be taken to a hospital, where she was found to be suffering from anemia and swollen veins in her tongue.

Where to start with this one…

First, I did some rudimentary research to confirm it really was a true story, coming from The Sun , and all.  But sure ‘nuff, Stacey Irvine, who looks relatively okay, has in fact eaten primarily processed chicken nuggets for the last 15 years of her life, with fries (or chips, across the pond) and the occasional culinary venture into toast for breakfast and the rare potato chip for a snack.  Doctors call hers a “beige” diet, a blandly descriptive enough term.

I’ve got one of those monochromatic eaters – she has Asperger’s Syndrome , in which a limited diet is fairly common. But as a young adult who was exposed to a wide variety of foods at a young age and who hails from a family that generally likes to try new foods,   her diet ranges to some reasonably healthy shades of yellow and red,  and includes the proper amounts of most of the necessary nutrients.  Interestingly, she’s fond of chicken nuggets, too, but is also well aware that while chickens have wings and breasts and legs – nowhere does their anatomy include a “nugget.”

“McDonald’s chicken nuggets are my favourite,” Irvine told the Sun. (I’ll keep their spelling, for the full effect). “ I share 20 with my boyfriend with chips.

“But I also like KFC and supermarket brands. My main meal is always chicken nuggets every day.”

While Irvine’s OD-ing on chicken nuggets on her bed of happy meal toys, on this side of the Atlantic Mrs. Obama is hitting the streets and neighborhood schools with her healthy eating campaign and the USDAs My Plate in hand.  Her efforts are intended to showcase USDA improvements to school meal requirements that increase the availability of health food choices, and also seek to limit the total number of calories in an individual meal.

Those chicken nuggets Irvine is so fond of – and which plenty of public schools serve – contain 58g of fat and 926 calories in a 20 nugget meal – exceeding daily recommended intakes of 56g fat, and comprising almost half of the daily recommended 2,000 calories a day.  If that’s not scary, maybe this video  of what’s actually in that chicken nugget might do the trick. At the very least, the pink boa constrictor of mechanically separated chicken should be sufficiently horrifying.  (Although the YouTube closed captioning on the piece is rather entertaining.)

But maybe it’s not horrifying enough for American sensibilities.  Healthy eating guru Jamie Oliver, a TED Prize winner with a winning way of getting people to reconnect with good food, tried one of his food deconstruction programs with a group of American school children a couple of years ago.  After carefully separating a whole chicken into its normally edible parts, Oliver then dramatically processed the remaining carcass, bones and all,  in a blender while describing how chicken nuggets are made.  Presenting the pink glop of chicken parts puree to the children, he asked them, “Who would eat this now?” After just a moment’s hesitation, every hand shot up.

A clearly thunderstruck Oliver then cooked up the patties and served them to the children, who happily ate them.  Reflecting on his failed experiment later, he said, “What’s scary is that we’ve brainwashed our children so completely, so even though they know something is disgusting and gross,  they’ll still eat it if it’s in that friendly little shape.”

Humans are creatures of habit and convenience. Give us the two together, and we’re set, even if it kills us, which eating out of convenience and habit might well do.   So the battle for the Western world’s waist line and cholesterol levels rages on – with Jiminy Crickets like Mrs. Obama and Jamie Oliver perched on our shoulders cautioning common sense and restraint and beckoning us to the joys of healthy eating, and the fast food foxes luring us to the next donut and the promise of the immediate gratification of corn syrupy endorphins coursing sluggishly through our clogged arteries.

Maybe if we could see it for what it really is: Our lack of self control in our eating habits is at least partly symptomatic of a lack of control in other aspects of our lives, which leaves us open to manipulation and control by others. We fancy ourselves a “free people.” But we’re not. We’re often slaves to what anyone wants to sell us, from politics to processed poultry.

Pleasure Island is making chicken nugget donkeys of us all, and it will continue to do so until we see it for what it really is, take control of our health and our lives,  and truly become free.


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