Chicken nuggets haven’t always been made from pink slime, nor were they invented by McDonalds. Turns out we know surprisingly little about how these ubiquitous golden hunks of deep-fried poultry ever actually made it onto fast food menus.
Contrary to popular belief, McDonalds was only the first entity to commercially sell nuggets, not invent them. Robert C. Baker is actually credited with the nugget’s inception 18 years before McDonald’s head chef Rene Arend reportedly devised them in 1977. It’s OK if you’ve never heard of Baker, not many people have.
Baker was “a person of his time”, Baker’s oldest son Dale told Slate. “He grew up in the Depression, not having enough food to eat. When he’d buy a dinner, he would want to get the most calories for the price. He wanted to be sure the farmers would get the best prices for their birds.”
To that end, Baker leveraged his professorship in Poultry Science at Cornell University and the help of a cadre of grad students to revolutionise how we eat chicken products. Nuggets were only one of the 50-plus food items he and his students devised, including chicken hot dogs, burger patties and meatballs. Per Slate:
The foods they invented, which they detailed in widely distributed bulletins for anyone to copy and refine, launched what the industry now calls “further processed” poultry. Convenient and appealing, further-processed products transformed the market for chicken, pushing consumption from 34 pounds per person in 1965 to 84 pounds last year. But pressure from that new demand transformed the industry as well, turning it from a loose confederation of many family farms into a small set of massive conglomerates with questionable labour and environmental records.
Check out the rest of Baker’s tantalising story and how his contributions to modern cuisine were wiped from culinary history books over at Slate.
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