We all love the convenience of fast food from time to time. But we're probably willfully deluding ourselves by not wondering what goes into it, writes Renée Brack.
If you knew what was in chicken nuggets, would you eat them?
If all the ingredients were separated on a plate, would you eat those?
From the hefty list of chemicals and compounds that combine to morph into chicken nuggets, these two are most disturbing:
TBHQ: a petroleum-based, butane-like substance (ie lighter fluid) is used as a preservative and linked to hormone disruption, DNA damage, asthma and cancer.
Dimethylpolysiloxane: an industrial chemical used in sealants and as an anti-foaming agent in food.
A nugget can foam?
What is a ‘nugget’ anyway? Well, it’s not part of a real chicken’s anatomy. One definition is it’s ‘a lump of something’.
That ‘something’ is a comically repulsive, pink Frankenfood abomination called Poultry Paste. This raw material transforms into chicken nuggets.
How did we get to this real-life horror show of fast food to feed the masses?
Way back in the 60s, meat producers were looking to solve two related problems – how to increase profits and how to turn their garbage into saleable food.
They gathered up eyeballs, tendons, bits of meat left on bones, and organs then mulched it into a thick tube of pink paste.
But it was crawling with enough bacteria to knock out a small nation so they washed the paste with ammonia - a powerful disinfectant great for industrial cleaning including domestic items such as ovens.
But ammonia tasted terrible.
They fixed that by adding flavours such as dextrose (a sugar), salt, natural extractives of rosemary, MSG and a whole host more, euphemistically termed ‘seasoning’ also woven into various marketing campaigns boasting secret herbs and spices.
The next challenge was to improve its visual appeal. It needed to look less like a chicken breast implant and more like a portion of a real chicken breast. So they tipped in other chemicals to bleach and texturize the paste.
After that, it’s a simple process of coating the bite-size bits in low-grade starch products, then deep fry, overload with salt and serve warm with sides of dipping sauces.
Is your mouth watering yet?
Fictional films predicted mass meal production for the masses – the fast food phenomenon that we live with today.
When we get the shocking twist at the end of the science fiction film Soylent Green (1973) and compare it to the documentary Death On A Factory Farm (2009) it’s easy to see how far we have devolved.
In World War 2, people saw the atrocious results of industrialised death in Nazi concentration camps where a human body was reduced to what it could be used for. The world was repulsed and vowed ‘never again’.
Yet footage shows factory farms are industrialised death camps for animals where exploitation, inhumane treatment and cruelty are commonplace.
I’m not attacking meat production or taking a pro-vegan position. My point is to pose the question: do you know what’s in that nugget you put in your mouth?
Fast Food Nation (2006) serves up a good story about the whole production line but if you’re outrageously courageous and want to be confronted see Salo (1975) and ponder the metaphor of eating crap in a room surrounded by people doing the same. Then pop into a local fast food outlet and see if you feel like scoffing nuggets.
The problem is that the need to feed overrides logic when it comes to human hunger.
But there is good news. We can find out all about those polysyllabic chemicals in fast foods like chicken nuggets before we get hungry and make informed choices.
Here’s the kicker though – do you want to know?
Renée Brack is a journalist, media producer and adventurer.