Jumping into the Chick-Fil-A Fray

When I moved to the south twenty-one years ago, it took me a while to get used to the differences in the food.  Having grown up an hour’s drive from New York City, I cut my teeth on staples like bagels and cream cheese, “real” NY pizza, and the best deli sandwiches in the world.

North Carolina boasted its pork barbeque and fried chicken, often on the same plate, always served with these things called hush puppies, and sweet tea to wash it all down.  Since I was a pretty mindless eater anyway, I eventually came to like southern food, even as I missed what I’d left behind.

When I found myself pregnant the first time, I made a mental effort to eat healthier.  Of course back then, I didn’t really know what healthy was.  To me, eating healthier meant iron supplements, no beer, and cutting back on fried chicken because my pregnant self wasn’t doing such a good job handling all that grease.

Several times during those months, my mother and I would take trips to the mall together, and for lunch, we’d stop at Chick-Fil-A.  I felt like this was a great option – the grilled sandwich with the pickles was sooooo much healthier than the fried stuff.  And those waffle fries just seemed to be a serious cut above McDonald’s.  Not as greasy.  Definitely more interesting design.

And of course, there was the sweet tea.

So those were the memories that came to mind this month when I saw that Chick-Fil-A, long touted as one of the healthier options out there in the fast food world, and famous for the cows that try to get us to eat fewer hamburgers, jumped into America’s culture war with both feet (and their legs and wings).  Dan Cathy, the head boss of the enterprise, expressed his opposition to gay marriage in an interview that inflamed the left and inspired the right, leaving a bunch of people in the middle just wanting to “Eat Mor Chikin” in peace.

Well, I am stepping into the fray.  I’m taking a stand right here, right now.

I am urging you all to boycott Chick-Fil-A.

Put down the chicken.

But my stand has nothing to do with the hot button cultural issue.

It has to do with the food.

In fact, this is the advice I’ve been giving for almost a year, and it’s based on personal experience.  As you might imagine, I eat a relatively clean diet – about 80% of it is plant-based, and 20% of the time I do my best to stick to the best quality whole foods I can.  And if anything really bad is going into my body, it’s a rare moment.

Last fall, I had one of those rare moments, and it happened while I was actually eating much cleaner than my usual 80/20 split.  I had recently come off a three week raw food detox and spent the previous week slowly reintroducing cooked foods.  I was feeling pretty good.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned my meals very well on the day I needed to head out to the Charlotte airport, a solid three hour drive from my home.  About halfway there, I was beset by hunger pangs I simply could not ignore, but I literally did not have time to stop and eat something like a salad.

One of those blue signs on the side of the highway started speaking to me.  “Hey… there’s a Chick-Fil-A at the next stop.  I know it’s been years since you’ve had one.  But get a grilled chicken sandwich.  It’s not that bad for you.”

Hunger can sometimes make you act against your best judgment.  I made a quick run through the drive-through, grabbed a sandwich for the road, and ate it slowly and carefully.  Immediately, the hunger went away.

But it wasn’t long before I began to feel like a rock had settled into my gut.  I felt bloated, got a headache, and by the time I’d gotten to the airport, I was exhausted.

When I got to a computer, I decided to look up the ingredients in the “relatively healthy” sandwich I’d eaten that day:

Chargrilled chicken (100% natural whole breast filet, water, contains less than 2% of sugar, butter flavored vegetable oil [soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, natural & artificial butter flavor, TBHQ, beta carotene], yeast extract, seasoning [sugar, spice, paprika, soybean oil], modified food starch, salt, sea salt, natural flavors, dextrose, potassium phosphate, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, paprika), wheat bun (enriched flour [wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], water, sugar, wheat bran, cracked wheat, yeast, sugar cane syrup, contains less than 2% of the following: wheat gluten, rolled whole wheat, soybean oil, salt, rye meal, dough conditioners [contains one or more of the following: sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium stearoyl lactylate, monoglycerides and/or diglycerides, calcium peroxide, calcium iodate, DATEM, ethoxylated mono-and diglycerides, azodicarbonamide, enzymes], calcium sulfate, honey, molasses, monocalcium phosphate, ammonium sulfate, calcium propionate [to retard spoilage]), tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, pickle (cucumbers, water, vinegar, salt, lactic acid, calcium chloride, alum, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate [preservatives], natural flavors, polysorbate 80, yellow 5, blue 1).

No wonder I felt like crap.

Then, because I wondered if I would have felt any better had I gotten a salad, I looked up those ingredients as well:

Romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, Chargrilled chicken (100% natural whole breast filet, water, contains less than 2% of sugar, butter flavored vegetable oil [soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, natural & artificial butter flavor, TBHQ, beta carotene], yeast extract, seasoning [sugar, spice, paprika, soybean oil], modified food starch, salt, sea salt, natural flavors, dextrose, potassium phosphate, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, paprika), grape tomatoes, broccoli, red cabbage, carrots, Monterey/Jack cheddar cheese blend (cheddar cheese [cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes, annatto {color}], Monterey Jack cheese [cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes], potato starch and powdered cellulose added to prevent caking, natamycin [a natural mold inhibitor]).

I doubt I would have felt any better.

And then, just for the fun of it, even though I didn’t eat them, I thought I’d look up the ingredients in those fries that seemed so much better than McDonald’s:

Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, palm oil), disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate (to promote color retention), dextrose, canola oil (canola oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent added).

Then I lined those ingredients up next to the McDonald’s French fries:

Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

Okay, so McDonald’s adds a little “natural beef flavor” to the fries.  Chick-Fil-A can’t do that.  They only use cows for marketing purposes.

Ingredients don’t lie.  The only ingredient that should ever be in chicken is… chicken.

The reason I felt so acutely ill so quickly is because my body, clean and working the way the human body is meant to work, was absolutely rebelling against all the chemicals, fillers, and artificial ingredients I had just trashed it with.  If my body had not been clean and was already used to having such ingredients in its system, I’m sure I would have felt no ill effects.  After all, I’ve probably eaten dozens of these sandwiches in my life.  Not till then did it affect me so.

That’s because when you give your body real, whole foods on a regular basis, it will immediately recognize when you try to feed it garbage.   A truly healthy body recognizes the junk much more quickly than most American bodies, and it rightly rejects it every time.  (At least mine does.)

I hear the arguments every so often.  “But Chick-Fil-A is a BETTER option, really.”

No, really, it’s not.  To their credit, they have eliminated the use of partially hydrogenated oils.  Their meals do tend to come in at fewer calories than other fast food restaurants.  And I’ve always appreciated that this restaurant closes on Sundays, so its employees know for sure there is one day a week that they can spend with their families, go to church, and/or watch NFL football.

But little things like those can’t overcome the overwhelming truth that, as you can see clearly in the ingredient list, it’s a poor quality product.  It completely lacks nutrition.  It contributes to our nation’s obesity crisis.

It’s not really food.

It’s all well and good to support companies that promote your personal values and espouse your political positions, and to boycott those that don’t.  (If you can keep up with all the players – it gets very confusing after a while.)  It’s voting with your dollars, and that works better than our actual political system seems to.

So eat there if that’s your choice, for whatever reason.  But don’t kid yourself into believing you’re eating any healthier than you would be at any other fast food restaurant.

My suggestion?  Don’t Eat Mor Chikin.  Eat More Kale!

As always, I welcome your comments, but I request that you keep them focused on the point of my piece, not the current cultural firestorm that inspired me to write it.  There are PLENTY of other forums on the web right now where you can share your views about THAT debate.  Thank you.

Speaking of fast food and French fries, next week I’ll address the irony of one mega company having a monopoly on a food product that couldn’t be worse for you, at an event that celebrates all the nations of the world competing in acts of physical strength and grace.   The Olympics begin this weekend – enjoy them with a smoothie, skip the fast food milkshakes.  🙂

© 2012  The Wellness Wordsmith

Do you have questions about the Wellness Wordsmith Instant Author Package?  I am more than happy to answer them.  Just contact me at skemple@aol.com, and we can set up a time to talk.

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5 thoughts on “Jumping into the Chick-Fil-A Fray

  1. I don’t get it, when i make a piece of grilled chicken at home it’s chicken salt and pepper. Why does any restaurant put that stuff in the food? Why does a MCd milkshake have anything besides milk n shake? Seems it should be cheaper to not have all that crap.

  2. Debbie, a lot of that crap is pout in to keep the real ingerdients form spoiling, or to “improve” the taste. When considered in the huge bulk quantities they are purchased and used in, they are cheaper. Do you think soda companies switched to HFCS for reasons other than cost? Cost savings is what drives the use of nearly all those additives, and our bodies pay the price sooner or later.

  3. Pingback: McDonald’s: The Breakfast of Champions « The Wellness Wordsmith Blog

  4. Pingback: Why I Voted to Keep Same-Sex Marriage Legal in North Carolina | Dave Baldwin

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