So I sat down last week, tired from too much office work and decided to see what Oprah was into these days. I like to check her show out now and then to see what she has America thinking, feeling, wearing and reading at any given moment.
Well, her show was about hooking people up to make their lives better…note that I said to make their lives better…and the promos for the show were positively seductive! Oprah looked directly into the camera, her big brown eyes moist with compassion and promised America that she was hooking everybody up with a special gift.
The show begins and Oprah ends the anticipation and gives America its present. Each and every American is entitled to head on over to her site and download a coupon for a free grilled chicken dinner from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Huh? I was sure someone had slipped crack into my lunch. Did she say KFC? Seriously? KFC?!?!?!?
Of all the food on this fragile planet; of all the promotions Oprah could endorse, she goes with KFC grilled chicken dinners. This is Oprah, the same Oprah who has Dr. Mehmet Oz come on the show and talk to America about health and wellness and making better food choices. The same Oprah who has everyone from Eckart Tolle and green experts to Kathy Freston on her show talking about making a lighter footprint and living more compassionately. That Oprah. Is she schizophrenic?
Now that I have calmed down, (yes, this is me calm over this disgraceful promotion of junk food to an already obese and sick nation), I checked out the comparative nutritionals. While a breast of KFC original recipe has 370 calories, 21 grams of fat and 1050 milligrams of sodium, the new Kentucky Grilled breast has 180 calories, 4 grams of fat and 440 milligrams of sodium. Is it better than fried chicken? Of course; even I can see that. But here is the thing. It’s still chicken, with all that goes with being chicken.
When we eat chicken, we participate in cruelty…period. Nearly 10 billion chickens are raised for food each year and if you think for one minute that there is a compassionate, humane way to raise that number of animals, you need to think again. Each chicken is raised in a space that is less than one half a square foot; their beaks are cut off without anesthesia to prevent injury when the stressed out birds freak out in the crowded conditions. Imagine if you stood all day and night in a hot, packed space with nowhere to turn to be free. Oh, wait, we did that. It was called Auschwitz!
And because more and more Americans are turning to it as a fabulously healthy protein source (Oprah said so; it must be true, right?), we need to produce chickens faster, so they are genetically altered and fed growth hormones and steroids to encourage abnormally fast growth. Pushed beyond their biological limits, hundreds of millions of chickens die each year before reaching slaughter at a mere 6 weeks of age. Yikes! See, their lungs and hearts can’t keep up with how fast their bodies are growing, so they die of congestive heart failure. Not to mention the crippling leg disorders occurring because they can’t support the abnormal weight of their bodies. And that is even before the processing which can involve stunning the birds in electrified water, slitting their throats while conscious and if the blade misses that slits their throats, well, they are boiled alive.
But okay, suppose you’re not all into the animal suffering bit. Suppose the suffering of a living creature is not that big a deal for you? How about this? The chickens are raised in such unsanitary conditions that they become disease-ridden and need massive amounts of antibiotics to try and stem the tide of the diseases they carry. And all that poison lands right on your plate for your dining pleasure.
Sidebar, lest you think I am out of touch: There begs to be a discussion of organic chicken production here, to be sure, but since we are talking KFC and organic is not a word in their vocabulary, we’ll save that discussion for another time. Suffice it to say, however, that if you think organic chicken is a better choice, do some research and make sure the producer you buy from is following the spirit of organic production, not just the technical letter of the law. Organic feed used in the same circumstances as other factory farms may technically be organic, but it’s far from the spirit of sustainability and compassion. I’m just saying…
But back to KFC. For decades, their savvy marketing of kind ‘ole drawling Colonel Sanders helped shove this swill down our more than willing throats. My mother used to say that you could fry wood chips and people would eat them. She was right. And so now, after all the heart-stopping, artery-plugging fried junk food they have promoted, even going so far as to say dinner in a bucket was the greatest way for families to eat together again, they are trying to jump on the healthy food bandwagon. (Seriously, is that the best we can hope for, dinner in a bucket?)
And why do we think KFC is going this new route? You can bet your clogged arteries it ain’t for your health, but for the health of their bottom line. With healthy eating on everyone’s mind, it has become the fastest growing segment of the food industry today. And with that every health-stealing pirate in the fast food industry is looking for creative ways to keep you walking through their doors and purchasing their food…well, it looks like food, but trust me…
Look, at the end of the day, this is not an indictment of Oprah. I love the work she does in the world and I think she has a great heart. But she is also the perfect illustration of the disconnect Americans have with their food. To be able to move from green experts talking about a lighter footprint to giving away KFC (grilled, I know; I know…) to the entire country suggests a disconnect on the most basic level.
We have lost touch with who we are and what’s fit and unfit for human consumption and if we are to survive and thrive, we’d best reconnect right quick. Our very lives depend on it. There’s no free lunch. This Kentucky Grilled Chicken meal comes at a very high price.