Long before I became the Food Babe I used to be addicted to Chick-fil-A. I remember the first time I tasted it – it was at the mall when I was very little and they used to have the free samples. There was a lady walking around outside of the store with hot, fresh pieces of newly fried chicken on little toothpicks. It was free so of course my parents let me try it. The smell alone was intoxicating, not to mention the taste. What continued for many years was countless meals of Chick-fil-A during my childhood followed by almost daily consumption in college. Thinking about it now, even though I haven’t had it in what seems like a decade…I still know what a Chick-fil-A sandwich smells and tastes like.
This is why I chose the mall to begin my latest food investigation. A lot of people who generally don’t eat fast food still eat Chick-fil-A. A lot of people say “I only take my kids to Chick-fil-A once in a while.” Countless moms and dads take their kids to Chick-fil-A, thinking it’s better than other fast food places. When I first wrote the post Chick-Fil-A or Chemical-Fil-A? last summer, so many of my closest friends and family members were downright shocked at the list and type of ingredients Chick-fil-A uses – which are similar to big chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Back in the day, restaurants were not required to list ingredients, there was no google, and we were all pretty much kept in the dark about what was in our food. Now that times are different, and most of the information is readily available at our fingertips and in most stores themselves, I wanted to know how many parents have actually looked at the ingredients in Chick-fil-A. So I asked.
I started off the questioning with “Why did you bring your family to Chick-fil-A today?” I interviewed 30 families in total between a mall based Chick-fil-A and a popular standalone store.
These were the top three (food related) answers.
1. “My kids asked for it.” The information I am about to share may make you think twice about giving in to their requests.
One of the main ingredients of Chick-Fil-A’s nuggets (regular and the new grilled ones) which is listed twice is Monosodium Glutamate, a.k.a. MSG. The amount of MSG that food companies can put in your food is not regulated. MSG is an excitotoxin that can excite brain cells to death. MSG can cause adverse reactions in some people including “skin rashes, itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, migraine headaches, asthma, heart irregularities, depression and even seizures.”
As a follow up question, it was natural for me to ask the parents who first introduced their child to Chick-fil-A. The answer was always pointed back at them. The parents introduced Chick-fil-A to their children. Which reminds of me of one of Lisa’s older posts – Kids eat processed food because parents give it them. I couldn’t agree more with Lisa’s thoughts here. “Young children have to rely on their parents to provide good food for them.” You have to admit, parents have a lot of control over what their children eat whether they take on this responsibility or not.
2. “It’s better quality and tastes fresh.” It may taste good, but I have to question whether adding MSG to meat from conventional chickens that are sometimes given antibiotics is quality? If you look at a typical Chick-fil-A sandwich to see what keeps it “fresh” you’ll find close to 100 ingredients, 18 of them being different types of preservatives.
I wonder if these preservatives could keep a Chick-fil-A sandwich pretty much intact the same way it kept a Big Mac intact for 30 days exposed to air, illustrated by Morgan Spurlock’s experiment with McDonald’s during the movie Super Size Me?
The FDA allows food companies to add these preservatives in limited quantities. However, they do not prohibit combining different food items together. For example, let’s take TBHQ which stands for “Tertiary Butylhydroquinone.” TBHQ is a chemical made from butane and can only be used at a rate of 0.02 percent of the total oil in a product. This ingredient is listed twice, once in the chicken and once in the bun. It’s easy to see how the typical American diet can result in one big whopping dose of preservatives in a given day. Chick-fil-A abides by the required FDA limits, but limiting TBHQ to a certain percentage is the same logic the FDA used when allowing a product to still contain 0.5 grams of transfat and be labeled “transfat free.” Fresh, as you can see, can be a chemically derived illusion.
3. (Many versions of…) “If I turn in the toy from the kid’s meal I can get an ice cream cone that my kid loves and I don’t have to deal with all these annoying toys everywhere in my house.” Having less toys may sound better, but check out what’s in Chick-fil-A’s “Icedream.” This little treat has all sorts of processed sugar, transfat, caramel coloring, and artificial food coloring x 2. Since when did you need to color vanilla ice cream white? I couldn’t find out exactly what kind of caramel colors Chick-fil-A sources, but the caramel colors that some fast food chains use in soda is linked to cancer. California recently added caramel coloring to a list of carcinogens that caused soda manufacturers to reformulate their ingredients to avoid a cancer warning label on their product.
After speaking to these families, I ended each conversation with one last question. I asked “Have you ever reviewed the ingredients listed in the Chick-fil-A nutrition guide?” No one had. Not even one family out of the 30 that I interviewed. I tried to hand out as many guides as possible but only a handful of families accepted them. How many of these families would think eating MSG, TBHQ, artificial colors, and caramel coloring is just fine? I made it a point to approach each family with an open heart and kindness, but when I was done for the day, the whole exercise left me sad, depleted and reminded me that we have a lot more work to do in this country to educate people about REAL FOOD.
I want to leave you with something you can make the next time you have a craving or your kid “asks”. Here is a REAL FOOD organic recipe that tastes like Chick-fil-A so you can truly provide fresh to your family. Enjoy
Vani Hari a.k.a. Food Babe is an organic living expert, food activist and writer on FoodBabe.com. She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth. To follow Vani, check her out on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.