Freshly Baked: Chicken McNuggets

Opinion by Tim Moon
April 5, 2011, 12:28 a.m.

Freshly Baked: Chicken McNuggetsSome of you have probably seen that photo of a thick, python-like, Pepto Bismol-tinted coil of mechanically separated meat being scraped off into a cardboard box. It’s some freaky stuff, and when I first saw it, attached to the title “Pre-Chicken Nugget Meat Paste, a.k.a. Mechanically Separated Poultry,” any cravings I had for Chicken McNuggets disappeared. Understandably.

This was distressing, because I like Chicken McNuggets. Chicken McNuggets remind me of being a kid, of stopping at McDonald’s on road trips with my family, of only ever getting sweet and sour sauce to dip the McNuggets in, because that’s what my parents always got. They’re also just plain good, from time to time. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for eating fresh, seasonal, local and all that other good stuff, but the couple of times a year I get a craving for a Chicken McNugget, there’s no substitute for the real thing. That crispy coating that’s not like any other breading in the world, the smooth and juicy white meat inside (although I think we can all agree that they used to be better when they had dark meat), following each bite with one or two of those bangin’ fries…

Thinking that I’d ruined Chicken McNuggets for myself forever by seeing that box of pink meat slurry, I instantly regretted caving to my curiosity and clicking on the link. Luckily, I stayed calm enough to do a little sleuthing and found that Chicken McNuggets don’t actually contain any mechanically separated chicken anymore. Crisis averted.

I was reminded by this almost disastrous episode when I went out to dinner with a friend last quarter. I was trying to convince her that we don’t want to know everything about our friends, but after wrapping up one last point, my friend just sort of “mm-hmm”ed and went back to her duck.

My friend may have been more interested in her duck (it was pretty tasty) than in my amateur social theorizing, but that duck itself demonstrates why we really don’t want to know everything about everything in our lives. My friend probably didn’t want to know where her duck had come from or how it had gotten to her plate for the same reasons that I was almost put off Chicken McNuggets by that awful picture. And for those same reasons, we probably don’t want to know about all the skeletons in our friends’ closets, about how many people our significant other has been with, about what people have said about us.

I have another friend, “Britta,” who’s pretty much a walking, talking mechanically separated meat photo — every time we catch up and I mention someone that we both happen to know, Britta drops some bomb about that person that jolts my image of them. Thankfully, it’s never quite as dramatic as the Chicken McNugget episode, but it’s still remarkable how her image-jolting bomb dropping is like clockwork. Heck, just last week, even though I’ve stopped bringing people up in our conversations out of fear of her “talent,” Britta somehow mechanically separated meat photo-ed someone who I didn’t even bring up. Unstoppable, that one.

We may not want to know everything about everyone in our lives or about everything that we eat, but things seem to be changing. Foodwise, there’s an increasing push to know the provenance of our food, whether animals have been humanely treated, whether fair labor practices are being used, and there’s even the new trend of being an “ethical” carnivore by confronting where one’s meat comes from. And in our interpersonal relations, we’re sharing more and more online, telling people who we’re dating and letting everyone know when we break up, telling everyone where we are now, posting pictures of what we’ve done.

This is good, right? If you learn something awful about someone/about Chicken McNuggets and you still love them just the same, that means the relationship’s stronger, no? I suppose the idea’s good, but…I don’t know. I still think there’s something to be said for pulling back and not digging too deep all the time. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy people or things for how they are to you, not for what they’ve been or where they’ve come from.

Especially Chicken McNuggets. You really don’t want to think too hard about those.


Tim feels good to have gotten his Chicken McNuggets guilty pleasure off his chest. Tell him one of yours at [email protected].


Login or create an account