Monday, October 27, 2014

Land of the free and the home of the chicken

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

To be the land of the free and the home of the brave, America sure is chicken.

Southerners have known this ever since we were old enough to say, “Is it ready yet?” We usually started saying that 10 minutes after getting home from Sunday preaching, even before we’d smelled the grease getting hot.

Now Corporate America is finding out what we have known all these years, even for a couple of centuries. Which is this: fried chicken is, in modern parlance, da bomb.

College football at its upper levels is about as Corporate America as you can get. Now, barnyard meets boardroom because … and I’m giddy here…trying to contain myself…

…we stand alerted that with the Heart of Dallas football bowl game being sponsored by Zaxby’s this week, we now have three bowl games named after fried chicken joints.


Yardbird sells. And not just in the South, but from coast to coast. Chicken means cha-ching!, literally and quite figuratively, as it cost more to sponsor a bowl game than it does to pay, I don’t know, the annual salary of your average Southeastern Conference football coach.

Starting this postseason we will have the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, the veteran Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, and the newest bowl that’s out of the fryer and onto your plate of football fare, the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.

And the Bahamas aren’t even in ’Merica! Binding us all is football and a simple feathered barnyard foul, common as a stick.

To encourage the investments made by bowl sponsors, the National Chicken Council throws out some pretty salty numbers:

The United States has the largest broiler chicken industry in the world. (For the great unwashed, a broiler is a chicken raised strictly for meat. Eggs are same ballpark, different ballgame);

Americans consume more chicken than anyone else in the world – 83.6 pounds per capita – the number one protein consumed in the United States.

Chew on those facts and consider that chicken has long made a bold statement. But those numbers don’t really speak to how far fried chicken has come.

It used to be thought of as something only the simple eat, too good for northern palates, a dish for the backwaters and dark corners. But the Wall Street Journal its ownself wrote a Big Story just within the past year – Josh Ozersky, which doesn’t sound Southern, is the author – about how “chefs” above the Mason-Dixon Line are souping up their menus with fancy dishes featuring dead fried chicken.

You have to be grateful that people like Josh, even though he is “not from around here,” spread such a good word. Journalists like Josh “get it.”

Fried chicken is trending!

Speaking of trending, the Duck Commander and “Duck Dynasty” and that whole crew/life force have taken trending to new levels. Like chicken, they even have a bowl game: The Duck Commander Independence Bowl. Do you see a progression here – dare I say mania? -- of birds and ball?

Some college football bowl games have even sub-let some chicken parts. I’m talking the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, which used to be the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. THAT is how popular chicken is, and I’m not a man usually bent to use all capital letters. But when you start naming bowl games after PARTS of animals, well, that is some kind of popular barnyard buddy.

The National Chicken Council – yes, them again – tells me that Americans will eat more than 1.25 billion chicken wings on your average modern Super Bowl Sunday. Fans of the New Orleans Saints are likely to eat an estimated 21 percent more wings on a Super Sunday than the average resident of the top 42 U.S. markets, even more proof that we live in the Broiler Belt.

And again, that is just wings. There’s a lot more chicken where that came from.

So just when you think the college bowl season can get no better, fried chicken steps up, as it has all our lives. You must admit that the Gator Bowl and the like just don’t, in comparison, bring much to the table.

But chicken does.