What is a vegan chicken nugget? Leave a comment


If we are what we eat, we’re a generation of chicken nuggets. I grew up eating fun finger food as an after-school snack and an easy dinner, sometimes in the shape of dinosaurs and Disney characters. Nuggets please even the pickiest of eaters (case in point: this teenager who ate chicken nuggets for 15 years and practically nothing else) and take just minutes to prepare. As an adult, I pass on meat for environmental reasons but I join a growing number of nugget-inclined consumers opting for meatless alternatives. We’ve created a demand, and top companies are battling tooth and nail to be our supply. With release after release of new imitation chicken, fall 2021 is shaping up to be the golden age of imitation chicken nuggets. What a time to be alive. 

What happens when you take chicken nuggets, an obscenely processed food to begin with, and remove the only recognizable ingredient? The vegan form emerges out of the shadows, a mystery meat sans meat … so, just a mystery. They’re not just fried tofu. Depending on the brand, they’re a concoction of protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, textured vegetable protein, wheat gluten and preservatives no one’s great-grandma would recognize. Chickenless chicken is a slew of paradoxes: both earthy and artificial, highly processed yet classified as a healthy alternative, plant-based but without any recognizable plants (clearly made inside a plant, though). They taste eerily similar to the real thing, a pinnacle of food science. 

Vegan chicken nuggets also play into a nugget-obsessed culture, for they are more than just a food. A generation of young people uses “chicken nugget” as a term of endearment and paste slogans like “nugs not drugs” and “nug life” on water bottles and laptops. Such phrases not only signal an affinity for breaded chicken but also a knowing lameness, a message that the nugget-lover is down-to-earth and easy to please. 





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