Death to the Chicken Finger (link)
By Adam McDowell - National Post
How we created an entire generation of unsophisticated, picky eaters — and why we must stop the tasteless cycle.
Cut up a fresh, bone-in chicken breast and you’ll notice that it naturally separates into two distinct parts: a larger, teardrop-shaped lobe of flesh — the piece of meat that you probably think of when someone says “chicken breast” — and a more narrow piece sometimes referred to as a “tender.” The chicken finger originated in the need to find something to do with that tender, explains food historian Gary Allen in a short history of the convenience food published online five years ago. Chicken fingers, Allen says, were seldom seen before 1990 or so, but by the end of the 1980s, fear of saturated fats turned many North Americans away from beef and toward chicken. Increased demand meant billions of additional chicken breasts were processed — but what was the industry to do with the tenders? The answer is on children’s plates. We can look at Allen’s mini-history of a mini-food as a metaphor for how cuisine has come to be divided in contemporary North America: The prime cuts go to the adults while the less healthy morsels — dressed up in extra salt, fat and sugar and processed almost beyond recognition — end up on the kids’ menu, both in the family restaurants that traffic in such fare, and at home.
For a generation, many North American parents have indulged children’s picky eating tendencies by sticking them in an endlessly repeating loop of chicken fingers, burgers, pizza, plain pasta, mac and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Anyone who has sat down for a meal with youngsters over the past 25 years will recognize this list of typical “kids’ foods.” Pushed out of the picture, to varying degrees for different children, are fruits and vegetables and anything else that might challenge them, from spicy delicacies to unfamiliar proteins. To picture what this might look like to a visitor from almost anywhere else in the world, imagine we just mashed up some bread and cheese and mechanically separated chicken flesh together, called it Kiddy Chow, and bought it by the bag to rip open to feed the tots.