Last updated on February 9th, 2015
After reading Fast Food Nation, I vowed never again to eat fast food. I rarely ate it anyway, except on long car rides where I might indulge in McDonald’s French fries at a highway rest stop. Even when I had to go to Kalamazoo, Michigan for a work conference and was marooned on a college campus with nothing but Taco Bell and Subway, I lived off granola bars. There’s no love lost for fast food in my life, no cravings, no midnight yearnings for a Big Mac. I’ve been clean for years.
But then I sang karaoke with the devil.
Let me explain: I have a sophisticated, globetrotting friend who recently moved to Paris. But down to earth he also is, and while back in New York for a weekend, he got the old gang together to sing karaoke. Once settled in our booth, he reached into his bag and unwrapped a box of the one thing he craves but can’t get in Paris—not a New York bagel, or a Shake Shack burger, but a freakin’ box of chicken from Popeye’s. He actually squealed with delight upon sinking his teeth into a crunchy drumstick and then waved his hand to encourage all of us to dive in.
“This is for everyone!” he proclaimed with magnanimity, reaching back into the bag for a stash of wet naps.
I’d never tasted Popeye’s chicken before and I was pretty sure I’d feel sick within the hour, but I had to try it. And dammit, it was the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Crunchy, moist, and the spice, oh the spice! It was better than the moan-inducing fried chicken smothered in gravy at Amy Ruth’s in Harlem. It was more gratifying than the Bobby Flay ultimate/smackdown/something-or-other recipe that had me massaging chicken pieces in a buttermilk spa. Freakin’ Popeye’s was even better than the fried chicken my mother makes. (Sorry, Mom. It had to come out as some point.)
And it’s not just me and my motley group of worldly eaters.
Emma is a serious foodie and native of the San Francisco Bay Area, where the baseline for good food is at European levels. For years, she dreamed about opening a restaurant that served artisanal pizzas. She was chummy with Gabrielle Hamilton before Prune got famous. Emma now talks about owning goats so that she can make her own cheese.
One late San Francisco night, C.C. and her BF were out walking when they spotted Emma bolting down the street. They wondered what she was doing there so late at night and all alone, especially since she lived far outside the city. Confused and concerned, they jogged along to catch up to her and understood what she was doing, just as Emma turned around and realized she was caught.
C.C. gasped, “Emma, are you going into Popeye’s??” She was guilty as charged. Emma’s craving had been so intense that she had driven across the Bay at eleven at night to get her hands on chicken and biscuits.
So dear readers, I ask you, no, I implore you to tell a girl what to do. My reasons for not eating fast food are well defined. It’s not even a matter of fat or calories (because obviously I’m not eating fried chicken for my health), but what I do not want to support with my dollars are the frozen meals made in factories and shipped around the country as little sodium bombs, the minimum wage jobs that don’t sustain anybody, the corporations that drive out the mom and pop spots that really define a city or town, the unpretentious hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or the general feeling of greasiness fast food leaves in and on you.
Popeye’s, how the hell are ya makin’ chicken so good it challenges my morality!?!