Meat Mysteries: The Chicken Edition Skip to main content

Meat Mysteries: The Chicken Edition

Meat on-the-go may be tasty, sometimes even delectable, but what mysteries go unquestioned between the seemingly good and the objectively bad? Taste and value have become the gold standard ratio for consumers in the United States, causing an average of 44.9% of adults between the ages of 20-39 to consume fast food on any given day, leading to “high caloric intake, and poor diet quality,” according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

So what the *cluck* is chicken adding to this daily figure, and how are some better than others? To put some scale behind the figures, McDonald’s is the single largest customer in the beef, pork, and potatoes market in the United States according to CBS News, and the second largest purchaser of chicken. With so much processed meat making its way into the diets of millions of Americans each day, it’s no surprise one of our most commonly eaten poultry will contain additives, preservatives, and excess compounds that are terrible for you compared to a standard, healthy diet.

What’s so bad about processed chicken?

With increased population comes the need for increased food production; with increased food production comes the need for storing and preserving the abundance of food. The common response for meat preservation comes in the form of Nitrite, N-Nitroso Compounds and Nitrosamines—now isn’t that tasty?

These chemical compounds combine to preserve meats due to their sodium-dense composition. The color, flavor, and bacteria-preventing efficacy of these chemicals help maintain longevity and enjoyment, but at what cost?

The scientific community has monitored the effects of N-Nitroso compounds throughout the years, observing their sources in cigarette smoke, pharmaceutical products, toxic water, and over-salted foods. Our bodies, however, are only capable of excreting limited amounts of these derivatives. The excess chemicals are stored within our bodies, posing increased risk for stomach or bowel cancer as observed in animals and humans alike.


Salt has proven itself as the age-old method of food preservation, yet shown harmful when ingested in high amounts. Fast food chains across the nation rely on salt-heavy additions to their meat and other foods to maintain quality and amplify flavor. This increase in daily salt intake leads to more serious illnesses in the form of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and stomach cancer, adding more reasons to moderate processed meat consumption.

The problem at the source

Many are unaware of the gritty horrors left unseen on the journey from farm to table. The steady demand for chicken-based fast food consumption has seen rise since the early 1950s, even surpassing the leading beef industry in the early 2010s. Chicken farms are amassing birds in never before seen numbers, cramming poultry in confined spaces amid feces and the rotting carcasses of those unfit for the conditions.

The World Animal Project (WAP) monitors these conditions, grading fast food companies from worst to best depending on where they acquire their meat. Fast food chains are given scores from 0-90 depending on their acquisition of poultry from farm-friendly environments. This figure, however, isn’t much to sway some of the world’s largest consumers in their decision to purchase bulk meat at cheaper prices. Below are WAP’s conclusions for some of the most common fast food chains around the world.

The World Animal Project’s “Pecking Order”

  • KFC - 49% (3 Making progress)
  • Starbucks - 40% (4 Getting started)
  • Subway - 40% (4 Getting started)
  • McDonald’s - 24% (5 Poor)
  • Nando’s - 21% (5 Poor)
  • Burger King - 10% (6 Very Poor)
  • Pizza Hut - 10% (6 Very Poor)
  • Domino’s PLC - 9% (6 Very Poor)
  • Domino’s Inc - 0% (6 Very Poor)

The naturally unnatural

Conditions are objectively bad for most chickens, left in overcrowded pens with hundreds of thousands of others where disease and infections rein supreme. In response, antibiotics and chemically altered compounds are administered to keep birds healthy.

As science has shown in recent decades, the increase in antibiotics in the meats we eat creates unwanted immunities to the antibiotics we so desperately need in our own prescribed antibiotics. Bolstered immunities to these necessary drugs lead to less effective medical treatment and lowered immune systems. The simple act of frequently eating antibiotic-ridden meats is slowly, yet surely, deteriorating our bodies’ natural susceptibility to necessary medication.


To further meet consumer demands, plumping methods have altered natural appearances of poultry to enhance the size and weight of meat. Salt water injections, as well as chicken stock, extract of seaweed, or a combination of the aforementioned, mix to create an altered and larger appearance of chicken. This procedure falls in line with “natural” methods of raising chicken, as the United States Department of Agriculture defines as “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product…”

Unfortunately, this definition does not apply to the foods or injections given to these animals, and only applies to the processing after slaughter. As is clear, this method of alteration presents unnatural means in the supposed “natural” meats we choose to eat.

Source your source

The options of purchasing prime, fresh, healthy meat options are surprisingly abundant when not ordering from a fast food menu. Farms throughout the world cater to their animals in the most humane, natural conditions before slaughter, including where and how they’re fed.

When looking for the healthiest and most organic chicken options, visiting an independent meat market is always a quality option. Butchers in local towns take pride in their years of dedication to their craft, while also sourcing some of the most well-maintained livestock on the market. Butchers can inform you of cuts of meat, quality, sourcing, and any additional information you may have about the meat you’re purchasing. If choosing to find higher quality meat at the grocery store, look for some of the following terms:

  • Hormone-free
  • Farm-raised
  • Pasture-raised
  • Natural
  • Antibiotic-free
  • Air-chilled
  • Organic
  • No synthetic fertilizers
  • No animal by-products
  • Free of pesticides

Based out of Idaho Falls, Idaho, Grand Peaks Prime Meats has made it their mission to supply their local community with over 65 years of customer services to refine the meat purchasing experience through healthy, quality, humane meat practices. Their ethical means of acquiring meats from dedicated slaughter plants provides customers with above-average selections for artfully cut and responsibly raised livestock. If you’re looking to make the change from fast food to healthy, quality cuisine, contact an independent butcher like Grand Peaks Prime Meats to experience meat the natural way.

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