Chicken: The Cluck Stops Here!

I remember when I was a kid, running around outside, playing with my sisters and neighbours, a warm summer evening and the smell of the barbecue filling our noses, making our mouths water. My dad would be manning the grill as he always did, flipping the chicken breast an unnecessary number of times. He would start out with the gigantic pieces of chicken that had to be 6-7 ounces each. By the time he finished overcooking them (he was very old school and thought that everything had to be cooked to death) they would be around 3-4 ounces. I’ve always wondered why this would happen but never bothered to ask about it. I just assumed this was a characteristic of chicken.

After high school I attended a local Culinary Arts school, which focused on technique in gourmet cooking. The chicken we used in our class was always fresh and didn’t shrink down like the chicken of my childhood. There was definitely a reason for this but I didn’t bother to put two and two together until a few years later.

In 2008, I went to work for a local food distribution company, and there, unknowingly, was where I would finally get some answers.

We had weekly sales meetings, which consisted of sales training, vendor presentations of new products, and probably the most important aspect, nutritional information about the food that we were selling, of which, I always found chicken to be the most fascinating. This fascination was somewhat with the bird itself but mostly the processes involved between the slaughter and the finished product.

Most people think that all chicken is just chicken. The processing plants chop the heads off, the bird dies, they pluck it, separate it into the individual parts and they are done. Although this is true in some places, for the most part, however, there are a couple of steps missing.

Let’s go back to the bird itself to examine one of the worst games played in the poultry industry. The Chicken that is available for purchase in North America comes from two main countries, the US and Brazil. Brazilian birds are as close to the natural state of a bird that we are going to get. Their meat protein percentage (a scale on which the quality of chicken is measured) is around 24%. American birds measure around 22%. Why the difference? American birds have been genetically modified to grow larger breasts, and are force fed to fatten them up so that they reach the appropriate slaughter size much faster.

Once the birds are slaughtered, the meat is ready for the next step. Chicken breasts are then “needled”, which is when a small metal pad presses into the meat poking small pinholes into it while slowly injecting it with a minute amount of water, salt and tripolyphosphates (which is a synthetic salt used for preserving food). After needling the meat, it continues down a conveyor belt into a tumbler that looks like a small cement mixer. In the tumbler is more of the mixture that was just needled into the meat. The door is then shut, the tumbler sloshes back and forth until the mixture is completely absorbed by the chicken. At this point the breast has almost doubled in size and weight. Discount, oversized chicken is born.

So what does this mean to consumers?

  1. You should always read that meat protein percentage number on the package. The closer you can get to 22% or 24%, the “cleaner” the chicken is.
  2. If you buy the lower quality chicken, don’t be surprised when it shrinks. And remember, the water is coming out but much of the salt and tripolyphosphates are staying behind for you to consume.
  3. The food industry has a number of major players that get filthy rich off of selling you garbage and the bodies that govern them are well funded by those same companies.

Remember to always read the labels, ignore the buzzwords, and if we are all knowledgeable consumers then the Cluck will truly stop here.

Advice: Take or Leave it!

For years my father has told me that “Advice is free, just listen. After that you can choose to use, or completely ignore it.” For years I told him, “Whatever dad, you don’t know about this”. This statement may have been true, but without giving him a chance to give me the advice I would never have found out.

So, what drove me to not even want to listen to him? Some may say I was stubborn or disobedient, but I feel that this rejection of his words and experience was derived from something far more dangerous. Pride. Not the kind of pride that I felt when I’d win a race or game, or the pride my parents felt when I would achieve something. This is the kind of foolish pride that keeps normal, free thinking individuals from accepting help and ultimately achieving more in life. I would shut myself off from outside opinions because I thought that I knew best and there was nothing that anyone could tell me that would make me see differently.

My foolish pride lasted until the very last day that I spoke to my ex-girlfriend back in early 2005. We were hanging out in my parents’ basement and we were both really into playing the guitar. I was never very good and her skills were a little less than mine but we had some written music that I was able to decipher. There were two parts to the song, rhythm and lead, and I had already figured out the rhythm section and was about to move on when I decided that maybe this would be a good time to teach her the rhythm, then I could learn the lead over top of what she was playing. She wasn’t having any of it. She demanded that she figure out the rhythm section on her own. So I left it alone.

After a half hour of listening to her unsuccessful attempts I decided that I would insist on helping her as this was making for a boring night. I offered to help her once again, and this time she exploded on me, calling me every name in the book, (this was a volatile relationship and the end was nearing, regardless of this fight) she picked up her guitar and stormed out of the house.

Our relationship ended that night and we haven’t spoken since.

What I learned from that night was that if you are too proud to accept advice, you can waste a lot of time running around in circles. If you are open to someone’s words and experiences, it may set you on a straight path to your goal.

Since then, I have always made sure to listen to people’s advice. Once they are finished I can choose whether to Take it or Leave it.