The following is from a book I've been writing for about five years. Not that you would know it from reading it...
My family hates grocery shopping with me. Hell, everyone does. This is totally understandable, for I am the biggest label freak alive. I’m not so much referring to the Nutrition Facts as I am to the list of ingredients. Personally, however, I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be. I mean, has anyone really thought about what goes into processed food? I didn’t until I was in college and had a food budget somewhere between starvation and the gross national product of Antarctica. Go figure. But the fact remains that processed food is infinitely bizarre. As a picky eater, I can’t imagine what I’d do in a country without a Food and Drug Administration. Because even in a place where the content of food is heavily regulated, we still eat a hell of a lot of trash. Take a look at just one example, chicken. Look how many different varieties exist!
BONELESS CHICKEN BREAST—The best, in my experience. Having this in the ingredient list assures you that the meat will be thick, juicy and—most importantly—identifiable.
CHICKEN BREAST WITH RIB MEAT—One step down from the above, this is superior chicken meat mixed with rib meat. Rib meat can best be described as wannabe breast meat. If chicken meat were Toyota cars, chicken breast would be the Corolla, whereas rib meat would be the Camry. Advice: just pretend rib meat is breast meat. That’s what the rib meat wants you to think anyway.
CHICKEN MEAT—So far we have looked at the high end of processed chicken. This is where the other end starts. Any time an ingredient list says “meat,” you are probably in deep shit. Not literal shit, of course—that’s further down the list. What you have with “chicken meat” is the politician’s answer to a turd: polish it. “Chicken meat” can be found most frequently in soups, frozen dinners and cheap cutlets. This is strictly chicken for those who don’t bother to read ingredient lists. Which is just as well, since this broad definition doesn’t rule out neck meat and other equally enticing nether regions. When you see “Chicken Meat” on your label, you know you’re in Toyota Tercel territory.
CHICKEN—This isn’t quite as specific as “chicken meat,” simply because this apparently doesn’t contain meat. For all we know, it could be nutria meat that got scared on its way to get stabbed.
CHICKEN BROTH—I have to say upfront that I enjoy chicken broth. This is a good thing, too, because do I really have a choice? It’s in damn near everything with chicken in it. When I was a kid, I asked my mom what chicken broth was; she assured me that it was just the stuff that drips from dead chickens. I would later find out that this was not true; what they do is take the unused parts of the chicken, MASH THEM TOGETHER and THEN collect the drippings. Cup of soup, anyone?
While we’re at it, who in the world decided that we had to use EVERY PART of the animal in the first place? Is this some kind of conservation measure? Out of respect for nature, you know, after killing the poor thing? Vultures don’t do that shit. They leave the rest for the food chain. It’s called fertilizer and mulch! Bury the beaks and noses and eyes and feet and spleens! Grow some vegetables so we can eat those too! But nooooo…we like to use everything when it comes to carcasses. We are nothing if not resourceful. Human ingenuity, then, is to thank for the chicken categories below:
CHICKEN FLAVOR—Not sure what this is, but it always seems to be accompanied by enough MSG to choke China, so I’m assuming it comes from chickens that ate a lot of Ramen noodles.
CHICKEN FAT—Literally, fat from the chicken. For some reason, found most often in processed food that already contains chicken meat and chicken broth. Somehow this flies in America. But for processed food supremacy, it’s hard to top the all-time, undisputed, underrated champion of bad nutrition:
MECHANICALLY SEPARATED CHICKEN—If chicken broth is the collective dripping of inedible chicken mashings, then mechanically separated chicken must BE the inedible chicken mashings. Found in hot dogs, vienna sausages, cheap jerky, chicken noodle soup and other fun foodstuffs we’d rather not associate with it. Were it not for that other Great American Made-Up Food, Artificial Coloring™, heaven only knows what color this “food” would be.