I have a confession that I need to make, and it’s not that I secretly harbor an admiration for the anonymous wordsmith who penned my favorite short poem: “Objects in mirror / Are closer than they appear.”
What I want to talk about is actually something that’s been sitting heavy on my chest for a few weeks now. It is actually directly related to this column, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you today.
Several weeks ago, wife Hanna and I were grocery shopping together for the first time. We got to the meat coolers and Hanna asked me what we should get more of, ground hamburger or chicken breast.
This is a very important decision, I came to realize, because the answer to this question very early in our marriage could influence Hanna’s course of menu-planning for the rest of our lives.
I weighed the options and decided to wing it: chicken. I like chicken, I realized, and it’s so versatile. While hamburger is virtually limited to the obligatory hamburgers, Hamburger Helper and spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken, on the other hand, can be eaten as the entrée itself or used in salad, pasta, sandwiches, wraps or, recently, a substitute in Tuna Helper.
On the drive home from the grocery store, however, I couldn’t shake a distant feeling of guilt that was oddly associated with my decision to favor chicken. And then it came to me: middle school.
In fall 2004, I, an eighth-grade student, hatched the bright idea to write a column about how often the school menu included an avian entrée.
Taking a few small liberties with the figures, I counted how many times a week students were served chicken, and then estimated how many total lunches—from the beginning of sixth grade to the end of senior year—a student would have eaten chicken at school.
The column quickly became what the French refer to as a “chicken coop de resistance.”
Figuring a five-day week included three day’s worth of chicken, I concluded that students at my school would eat chicken 840 out of 1,400 times, or roughly 60 percent of their school careers.
I should mention that, being a snotty 14-year-old, I was not terribly complimentary of the chicken.
If memory serves, my sardonically favorite chicken dish was called “chicken drumsticks” which were actually more like chicken nuggets—I’m really not making this up—molded into the shape of a 2-inch-long drumstick.
As you can imagine, a few people were not amused with my column; in fact, I may have egged them on too much.
The day after “Don’t count your chickens before you eat them” came back from the press, I was called down to the middle school office where I was greeted by both the principal and superintendent.
They presented me with a bright yellow piece of paper headlined “The real chicken facts.” My poultry-geist column was photocopied onto the paper, with arrows stemming from particular statements I had made to corrections written in black Sharpie. Generic chicken clipart festooned the corners.
After a stern talkin’ to, I was released back to class a bit wiser, but feeling just a little henpecked. I’ve since lost that yellow paper and the details it contained, but the message is still scratched into my memory.
Now, seven years later, I would like to use this column—the same column that went fowl so many years back—to make amends. I really do like chicken, and I see nothing wrong with serving it on a regular basis.
And I would also like to set the record of the chicken facts straight.
Using a menu from last May that I found on the USD 410 website, I was able to determine that chicken appears about two and a half times per week, not the three that I had estimated back in eighth grade.
Therefore, considering the same in-school week count that I used in 2004, I came to the conclusion that a student who eats lunch at school every day from sixth grade to senior year will have eaten chicken only 700 times.
That turns out to be a 50-50 split between chicken and the other meat entrees.
I think it’s safe to say that those who plan the school lunches are really doing a fine job, and I’m sorry for any hard feelings.
Lesson learned: When it comes to food, we shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells. So if you like something, speak out. Don’t chicken out.