"That you may ruminate"

…On Chicken.

Posted by Steve on January 24, 2009

I’ve been sick the past two weeks or so: first with a cold/flu (I can’t tell the difference) that’s been going around at work, and then on Monday that cold (which I’m still just getting over) set off a flare-up of what may well be the single most perfectly-adapted-to-humans virus in existence. Seriously, I think HSV-1 may well be the best-adapted virus humans have. It infects damn near everyone, since it 1) causes life-long infections, 2) sheds from you when you’re asymptomatic, and 3) gets spread by kissing babies, sharing food, and all other sorts of things that humans do because we’re social animals and just coincidentally make sure kids get exposed to it. Then, barring unfortunate infection of the wrong body part (if it gets in your eye it can cause blindness, and if it gets in your brain it can cause potentially fatal encephalitis, but such infections are very, very rare because HSV-1 isn’t just adapted to humans, it’s adapted to one specific nerve in the human head! Getting passed into someone’s genitals through oral sex is a risk, but genital HSV-1 infections are a lot less severe than genital HSV-2 infections, what with being on the far end of the body from that nerve HSV-1’s adapted to, and what with HSV-2 being adapted to genitals and a nerve down by them in the coccyx), in a person with a healthy & functional immune system the worst symptoms it can cause are… ugly, uncomfortable blisters that last for about a week. And a lot fewer of them, for that matter, than Herpes #3 (chickenpox) can – though, of course, chickenpox isn’t a herpes simplex virus, it’s a herpes zoster virus, and accordingly gets to be called “varicella zoster virus” instead of “herpes simplex virus 3”, apparently because it acquired the name “chickenpox” as a diminutive from “smallpox”, and “varicella” is somehow derivable from “variola”, which is the Latin name for the smallpox virus. I have no idea what distinguishes “zoster” from “simplex”. Might just be that the two simplex virii impart some level of resistance/semi-immunity to each other, but not to a zoster virus. I’m a transportation engineer, not a virologist.

And this post is about chicken, not virii.

See, when you’re sick – especially with a cold or the flu – chicken soup is good for you. No doubt a fair portion of that’s placebo effect from being told by Mom and Dad and Gary Larson that chicken soup is good for the flu (and number two, it’s nobody we know). There’s more to it, though. Soup in general (I find) is easy to eat when ill, and helps soothe the throat and sinuses. And chicken soup, as I’ve learned to make it, comes with many nutrients, what with the carrots, celery, peppers, lemon, onions, herbs, and of course, chicken meat, chicken marrow, and chicken-enhancing-broth.

Wait, something doesn’t belong in that list… Oh, yeah! Chicken-enhancing-broth, that’s what doesn’t!

One of the things I’ve started doing more of is paying attention to the labels of the food I buy. And I’ve noticed on some chickens, the label says, “Contains up to X% retained water.” Every time “retained water” gets specified, X is a single-digit-number – in some cases (generally a whole Perdue ), it’s all of “1”. On other chickens, though, it says, “Enhanced with up to Y% broth.” Generally, when broth gets specified, Y is a double-digit number – either 12 or 15 (although I seem to remember seeing a 9 once).

This is a big deal. Ostensibly, the broth-enhancement is done to make the chicken meat juicier and tastier, and by extension preferable to competing chicken, after cooking. Of course, since chicken soup means leaving the chicken in boiling water until the meat falls off the bones and the marrow seeps out into the water (gotta have that marrow flavor – and it’s a lot quicker with chicken than ox-tail, let me tell you!), juicy isn’t an issue under the circumstances that had me looking for chicken this time, and at other times, well, I don’t to try baking or pan-frying a chicken that’s leaking broth like a soggy sponge. What’s sort of an issue is that the broth makes for a very clear and noticeable (both in what the label reports and what you can taste) difference in the sodium content of the chicken. What is definitely an issue is that 12% or 15% of an enhanced chicken isn’t chicken – but you get charged for it as though it is. Remember, the grocery store charges you for chicken by weight. Assuming a 12%-enhanced chicken, a 5-pound chicken (on the small side for a fryer, but plenty for soup, since your soup’s going to be getting a bunch of vegetables and stuff in the pot too – not to mention water, and some sort of starch like rice or noodles), and a $1.50/lb price (which is steep, but I wouldn’t say it’s excessively so, and it makes the math way easier), the chicken costs you $7.50. Being charitable and treating “enhanced with up to 12% broth” as meaning “We take the weight of Actual Chicken and add up to 12% of that, to get the weight you’re charged for” (as opposed to “12% of what you’re being charged for is broth”, which would be a little bit more broth and a little bet less Gallus gallus), then a full 8.57 ounces – just over half a pound – of what you’re paying for is broth enhancer. So, of that $7.50, you’ve paid $6.70 for chicken, and $.90 for broth. Which, needless to say, will buy you any number of other, more useful, things at that same grocery store, ranging from a cabbage to a pair of Kiwi Fruits to a can of chicken broth you can actually use (say, for cooking couscous).

In short… pay attention to the chicken you buy, lest your money get wasted on non-chicken filler.

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