A Golden Nugget of 1980s Nostalgia
Like a lot of my fellow Gen Xers, I retain mental snapshots of several iconic, stand-out events of the 1980s. Like hearing the news that John Lennon was shot, when the Berlin wall came down, or watching the Challenger explode. Add to these, seeing Michael Jackson moonwalk, taking the Pepsi Challenge and watching MTV premier.
But I’d like to offer a too often overlooked addition to that list.
I can remember the moment I first ate a Chicken McNugget.
It was 1983, and I was sitting at a corner table in an Omaha McDonald’s. There was a flood of mid-morning light coming in through the windows. I was greasy, I was happy, and it was magical.
McNugget. Just hearing the very name sent pleasure waves through my newly-formed fontanelle, instantly transporting me back in time to the beloved vacation where my family mined yellow painted rocks in a tourist trap in South Dakota.
Before then, I had made it nearly seven years with seldom a bite of food. Food simply wasn’t for me. Rather, I managed to sustain myself on a daily diet of Fruit Stripe gum and cherry chapstick. Baloney, peanut butter and Pop-Tarts were added protein. When we went to McDonald’s, it was a hamburger with ketchup for me. No cheese, no siree. And for God’s sake no pickles and onions. Three bites later, I had enough.
But when I ate that first McNugget with a complementing cube of barbecue sauce? When I ate all six pieces? When I ate an entire meal for the first time ever? Everything changed. My body wanted food. I wanted food. Food that wasn’t covered in frosting. For the first time ever.
The concept was novel. Main dish meals you could eat in bite-sizes! Hands-free! Nah, no need to mess around with knives or forks anymore. We were busy. We were on the go. This wasn’t Leave It to Beaver’s world. Our parents scarcely had time to raise us, let alone feed us, let alone cut up our food so we wouldn’t choke.
But a Chicken McNugget wasn’t just a food, it was a concept. And soon after its own immaculate conception, the McNugget went on to father dozens of illegitimate, bite-sized children. Each became more tantalizing, more highly processed than the next. Perhaps the most brilliant? Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Bite-sized pizza covered in crust! We didn’t need to cut it, yet this was indeed cutting-edge. We could eat pizza in just one bite!
We were now ready for life in Space.
But let’s not talk more about the past, the future or the broken promises of George Jetson. Let’s talk about today. Today, after my childhood spent worshiping the glorious golden nugget.
Well, you may be surprised to learn that I’ve had a mere two McNuggets in the past ten years. Exactly two. I’ll admit it. I’m a health food nutjob. I even famously vowed that my children would never eat at McDonald’s on my watch.
But then last spring, when we found ourselves eight hours from home, with two small children in our car and within ten miles of an indoor playland, I caved. And then when my daughter ran to the influenza ball pit, leaving me alone with her McNuggets, I caved again.
I ate two. They tasted incredible. For a few minutes and for four scrumptious bites of fried flashback, I was happy.
But then I remembered this:
Chicken, water, salt, sodium phosphates. Battered and breaded with bleached wheat flour, water, wheat flour, modified food starch, salt, spices, wheat gluten, paprika, dextrose, yeast, garlic powder, rosemary, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cottonseed oil with mono- and diglycerides, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, ammonium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), natural flavor (plant source) with extractives of paprika. Dimethylpolysiloxane, a silicone derivative added as an anti-foaming agent. Fried in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness).
And I started thinking about why chicken would need an anti-foaming agent.
And for the rest of our car ride to Texas, for the next three hours, I wondered if I might need an anti-foaming agent too.
I thought I might McHurl.
By the way, I’m not always this much of a food prude. Because I do have a notion to eat another tube of cherry chapstick one day.
Sure, it’s not actually food. But then, what is now? Maybe when we live in Space, we won’t need food anymore. McNuggets will be enough to sustain us.
It’s exactly the way George Jetson and 1983-Angie would’ve wanted us to live.