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I love Quarter Pounders. But I don’t get why people enjoy chicken

Essay by Saira Mueller, CNN

(CNN) — My last memory of choosing to eat chicken was about 20 years ago.

I was sitting by the pool on a sunny day at a school swimming event. My friend got chicken nuggets and offered me some; I ate about three of them and they just didn’t do it for me. I’d had nuggets once or twice before, but there was always something about the taste that I didn’t like — even when I tried various sauces.

I’ve never really understood why people enjoy eating chicken. I don’t judge them for eating it — if it’s something they like, more power to them.

And, despite today being International Respect for Chickens Day, it has nothing to do with qualms about eating an animal. I’m a sucker for a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder and Korean barbecue.

For me, it’s the fact that some people go absolutely wild for the taste of chicken.

I’m talking about people who go miles out of their way to pick up wings or drumsticks, or those cravings my adult friends often express out loud for chicken nuggets, which most of them refer to as “nuggs” or “nuggies.”

Man, I wish I had a 10-piece of nuggs right now!”

I am absolutely mystified over the levels of chicken hype people seem to consider totally normal. 

Like the frenzy of people crowding Chick-fil-A or Popeyes when a limited-edition chicken sandwich goes on sale, as if it were the latest iPhone release. Or the fact that there’s something called the “chicken sandwich wars,” which could return in 2024 — thanks in part to the recent limited release of two new McDonald’s crispy chicken sandwiches.

There are also multiple popular YouTube talk shows — think Hot Ones and Chicken Shop Date — in which the eating of chicken is a vehicle for comedy and enjoyment.

When I confess my disinterest in chicken, people often get a confused look. It’s like they’re trying to solve a complex mathematical problem, or I’ve just declared I dislike sunshine or puppies.

“But chicken is the most popular meat!” they exclaim. “It’s inoffensive!” “It’s everywhere!”

Yes, I fully get that for many people my preference for, well, anything but chicken, is weird.

Given the taste of chicken, or lack thereof, and the fact that you can die from consuming it undercooked, I often wonder what it is that other people like about it that I just don’t seem to get.

Watching my friends devour chicken at every opportunity is like sitting through a foreign film without subtitles. They gleefully chow down at birthday parties or grab a chicken sandwich at fast-food joints after our weekend soccer games while I sit puzzled, feeling like the only one in the room who is missing the plot.

Soon after the swimming-event nugget incident, I started claiming an allergy to chicken. Thankfully, most people accepted this without question — a social get-out-of-jail-free card.

But occasionally, someone was skeptical. “Is that even possible?” they would ask. I’d nod my head and slowly back away, like Homer Simpson disappearing into the bushes.

My aversion to chicken might be more psychosomatic. My younger brother used to cluck like a chicken while I was eating it. Hearing the noise an animal makes while eating its meat? A highly disturbing experience.

Or, subconsciously, it could be my brain shying away from eating the closest living relative to dinosaurs, which I’ve always been fascinated by.

A few years after I announced my supposed chicken allergy, my mom (who didn’t believe the sudden onset of my allergy for one second) secretly laced my pasta sauce with chicken. I spent the next seven or so hours throwing up, and confronted her about it. When she admitted there was chicken in the sauce, it made me wonder if I did have a chicken allergy.

Even the smell of fried chicken repels me. I swear I can smell it from blocks away, my nose instantly wrinkling in distaste. Compared to the aroma of freshly baked bread or the sizzle of bacon — scents that beckon me closer — the fried chicken smell is like an unwelcome intrusion.

Whenever someone says, “It tastes just like chicken,” I’m puzzled. This first struck me at 22, during a volunteer stint in South Africa. At a restaurant serving exotic meats, someone claimed the ostrich — delicious to my taste — resembled chicken. It didn’t. I figured they were just comforting themselves with something familiar.

Trust me, I have tried to like chicken. I’ve tried it in all its forms. But at some point, I realized that I was forcing myself to eat it. Maybe it was time I just owned up to not liking chicken — no matter how people would react.

I finally started doing this a few years ago. At first I often got enigmatic, “That’s weird!” responses, but that’s thankfully become less common lately.

So, dear reader, please help me understand why I’m an outlier in this poultry-obsessed world. Why exactly do you enjoy eating chicken?

And if you don’t like it, please let me know. I’d love to know that I’m not alone.

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