What’s he hiding?

Undeterred by the thorough trouncing he received last time he threw down the gauntlet, the Colonel has placed it gingerly at my feet once more, with another apocryphal advertisement that premiered during — what else? — the Super Bowl.

I know that times are tough, and every business has a right — perhaps even a duty — to make itself at least appear to be the frugal choice. I get that; I really do. Even my own restaurant has cut prices, introduced lower-cost fare, and offered bargains for repeat business. We’re all in this together, and we all want our respective businesses to survive the turmoil.

The ad is not so bad for what it says, as much as for what it does not say (and understandably never would). For those who cannot bear to watch, let me offer a synopsis: It’s morning in the parking lot of the scrupulously manicured KFC, and a 55-foot tractor-trailer awaits the opening cook’s arrival as the voice-over announces, “KFC’s original-recipe whole chicken is delivered fresh.” The pavement is wet after a spring rain, and the place is lit up because the sun has yet to fully rise, all while a guitar gently picks a tame bluegrass rendition in the background.

Thanks to the magic of pause technology, one can actually read the fine print that KFC’s lawyers made them place at the bottom of the screen that otherwise lasts about four seconds. It says, “Fresh claim applicable to KFC’s drumsticks, thighs, wings, and breasts. Not applicable in Alaska, Hawaii, and due to supply outages” (my emphasis). The not-applicable-due-to-supply-outages part could just as easily read, “This is true, except when it’s not.”

But let us take the nice lady in the ad at her word, and assume that all the cut-up chicken on the Tyson truck outside is indeed fresh. By “fresh” she is referring to chickens that were raised in CAFOs in tens-of-thousands, beaks removed so they can’t peck each other to death due to stress, then slaughtered in meat processing plants where 1 in 3 of the often-undocumented workers is injured to the point of hospitalization every year. The waste from the CAFOs and processing plants are among the biggest contributors to climate change-related pollution.

Nice voice-over lady is revealed to be a worker in the restaurant. She goes on to tell us that the chicken is prepared fresh for you every day in their 11 secret herbs and spices, and she knows this because she’s the cook (fine print on screen reads, “actor portrayal”) and there’s “one of us in every KFC.” Here she may well have a point, since there is less and less actual cooking going on in chain restaurants around the world. At KFC, though, cooking consists of operating a high-pressure fryer and a microwave.

The true root of my complaint comes after all this touchy-feely stuff, when the music gets more upbeat and a different voice launches into the pitch: the “Unbeatable Feast” of dinner for five for just $3 each. Again to the fine print: “Limited time offer at participating KFC restaurants. Prices may vary. Tax extra. Extra charge for breast piece substitution.” Now they pay exactly the same amount for each of the pieces they buy, and unlike wings, thighs, or legs, they get four breasts from every bird rather than two because they cut the breasts in half. But that’s just me whining. The insidious part is the message itself.

Offers like this, and the countless others that have been foisted upon us for decades, hide the true cost of cheap food. In addition to the fact that it’s both fun and easy to prepare a more nutritious, better tasting meal at home for less, the impact of fast food on our health, environment, and culture has been gargantuan. For example, the rise in the use of HFCS in food products marketed primarily to children and the rise in early-onset diabetes and childhood obesity are exact parallels. Much of the heart disease in this country — the No. 1 killer — can be traced directly to these edible food-like substances. These things are driving our medical costs through the roof. Throw in the effects on the environment of all the CAFOs, processing plants, packaging, shipping, and idling cars in drive-thru lanes, and it’s no wonder Al Gore got the Nobel.

These may be tough economic times, but that’s all the more reason why we should stop looking at price and start looking at cost. Here’s a recipe that can easily feed a family of five for under $14.99, and you won’t have to pay sales tax, either. The sausage and the sour cream are both optional, but I wouldn’t do without them. Obviously get all the ingredients you can from near to your home.

Photo: Robyn Lee

Chicken and Sausage in a Chili-Orange Glaze

1 whole chicken, cut up
1/4 cup olive oil
2 pounds red potatoes, cubed
1 15-ounce can of tomatoes, chopped (use fresh when in season!)
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, sliced very thin
1 pound spicy sausage such as chorizo or linguica or Italian, sliced
2 tablespoons chili paste (to your taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup sherry
1 cup orange juice
Toasted cumin seeds, to garnish
Sour cream, to garnish

 

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken just a few at a time so the pan is not crowded, and brown on both sides. Remove to a warm plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

Sauté the potatoes and onion in the same large pan over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic. Sauté until the potatoes are tender. Add the chicken and stir. Add the sausage, tomatoes, chili paste, cumin, orange juice, and sherry. Simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until chicken is tender, and serve immediately with sour cream and toasted cumin.