by Gabriel Arthur Petrie
written 01-30-2003 : all contents of this writing are to the author's knowledge completely correct and factual as of the date. if any changes have occured in any website content described herein since that date, the author is not responsible for those changes having been made.
gabriel @ arq . net
Most Americans have heard the story about KFC's not-chicken. So the story goes, KFC has had to change its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC in order to avoid litigation from people claiming that the animal fried and served by them is not actually a chicken but is some genetically modified creature.
Most sites claim that the story originated from a circulated e-mail, and that this e-mail claims that the University of New Hampshire discovered the truth about the chicken during a study.
When I say most sites, I mean debunking sites. If you look this story up on a WWW search engine, your results are invariably divided between two catagories: sites relating the story and asking if it's real, and sites debunking the myth as 'urban legend'. Those that ask the question usually don't mention any letter, rather relating that the story was received word-of-mouth, whereas almost all of the debunking sites display the alleged letter in full.
Something else that all of the debunking sites have in common are links to other debunking sites as 'proof' that the story is a hoax.
Meanwhile, no debunking site links to any official page hosted by KFC or its parent company Yum! Brands, Incorporated as a source of an official stance or statement on the subject.
If you were to go to University of New Hampshire's site on the subject, their sources are links to, again, other sites who do the debunking.
An interesting analysis of the University of New Hampshire's official site on the subject, http://www.unh.edu/BoilerPlate/kfc.html , shows use of language that might allow them to sidestep the issue without responsibility:
"An active Internet hoax, of the urban legend type, falsely claims that KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is using genetically engineered organisms instead of chickens. The hoax includes reference to an unspecified study of KFC done at the University of New Hampshire and there is no such research or study that was done here. "
By the words "falsely claims", the University may simply be referring to the fact that their version of the story, printed at the bottom of the page, mentions a University of New Hampshire study that the University maintains was never actually conducted.
You would think that the University would, for the sake of clarity, not mention the study at all except to state that they have not performed one. Then, they could move on to discussing other aspects of the alleged legend. This isn't done; instead, after calling the story 'false', they explain that it is false because it contains a reference to a study that was never conducted, and then the details of the rest of the debunking are handed over to debunking sites who are somehow officials on the subject.
The debunking sites, again, simply refer to one another as officials on the subject.
The University of New Hampshire offers this link to an alleged official KFC page concerning their chicken:
I changed the extension of the page to ,htm (like the rest of the pages at the site) and .html and still got nothing.
Sadly, this alleged URL results in a page that isn't found. This is not a net issue, since all other official KFC pages originating from their http://www.kfc.com server are up and running smoothly. The link provided by University of New Hampshire is either outdated or 'false', but is essentially useless for proving anything.
If this was an official page referring to the official stance of KFC on the subject, it should still be at its URL where it can be conveniently located by lawyers and the public. It's absence doesn't necessarily prove anything, either.
University of New Hampshire goes on to say:
"Here is the text of one version of the KFC hoax that we've seen: "
Followed by a text of the alleged e-mail. Notice that they are vague about the originality of the message; they could have written it themselves and still described it as they did above. This vague language introduces the possibility that all of the versions of this e-mail that appear on the various 'debunking' sites (and they invariably do) that contain a reference to the University of New Hampshire could perhaps have been written by the University in the first place, or even by KFC.
The sole debunking point used when referring to these letters is that there was no such study conducted by the University of New Hampshire. However, this is where the search for truth ends. All the remaining debunking points are as speculative as the subject they are trying to debunk. Author's opinions are provided as scientific evidence of proof of hoax.
Often, debunking sites refer to the hoax as the product of 'paranoid culture' and usually go on to talk about how genetically modified food is harmless. This is also not proof of anything, either way.
The University simply states that it has nothing to do with any such study. The University will not address any other point of the subject except to provide opinionated conjecture, an insult to the public, and links to other sites. Their link, again, to KFC is broken.
Enough about amatuerish debunking sites linking to one another, and to The University who offically has absolutely nothing to do with any of the subject, at all. Enough, as well, about a broken official KFC link. Let's go straight to KFC.
"Welcome to KFC.com" -- http://www.kfc.com
"In 1939, Colonel Harland Sanders first gave the world a taste of his most famous creation, Original Recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken, "
This is the first mention of chicken made by the site. Since it is in reference to not only old chickens but the old company name, this statement is not useful in determining the reality of the story. The company in question is KFC, not Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even if the colonel did use real chickens, the above statement is just an anecdote about the old days. It has nothing to do with what's being used today.
"We still take pride in doing things The Colonel's way, utilizing only the highest quality ingredients, innovative recipes, and time-tested cooking methods."
Chickens aren't mentioned. This statement is not useful in determining the reality of the story.
"Only KFC has so much tasty chicken, fresh from our kitchens, just for you."
This statement could very well be an official KFC stance on the subject. However, I can perceive three large, allowable legal loopholes. First, that KFC branch stores and menus aren't mentioned. Second, that sale and product aren't mentioned, at all. KFC has so much, but they aren't saying they've giving it to you. Thirdly, and this is the only squeeze of the three, 'so much' could be any amount from all to none of the chickens in the world.
This statement, again, could be the official stance, but it isn't. If you need a fourth point, KFC does not offer any chicken fresh from the kitchen at any of its branch restaurants -- all the chicken is frozen and packaged before it even gets shipped to there, and they will tell you this readily.
"fresh from our kitchens, just for you."
Any food, in any package or container, can be referred to as 'fresh' as long as it's sold before the sell-by date. Those crumby chocolate-covered muffins in the plastic-wrap that sell for a quarter can be referred to as 'fresh' if the company chooses. You pour month-old cereal from the box, but the official stance of the cereal company's advertising firm is that elves magically baked it fresh in a kitchen just moments ago, that fits in a tree right before you put it in your mouth. The ingredients on the bag at the point of sale will, of course, inform you plainly otherwise.
Before we go on to other KFC pages, we should follow immediately to the link at the bottom of their front page, through the words "Legal". It leads to this page: http://www.kfc.com/legal.htm . Because this story is largely based around a legal matter of possibly misleading advertising, the language in the company's legal disclaimer at their main web site should be very important and useful in determining the accuracy of their own account of the truth of the story:
"KFC strives to ensure that the information contained in this web site is accurate and reliable. However, KFC and the World Wide Web (or Web Site Host) are not infallible and errors may sometimes occur. Therefore, to the fullest extent permissible pursuant to applicable law, KFC disclaims any warranty of any kind, whether express or implied, as to any matter whatsoever relating to this web site, including with out limitation the merchantability or fitness for any particular purpose. "
As you can tell by reading the above statement, even if you do find, somewhere on the official KFC web site, a page that has an official stance on the subject of the biological status of their chickens, you can't even really hold them to what's printed there.
Basically this says that anything you find on their web site can't be considered their official stance. Whatever you are reading on their web site could be attributed to mechanical or human error. KFC disclaims any warranty of any kind, whether express or implied.
We are going to look for an official page, any way, because if they say it here on their official web page then there's a good chance that it might be true, even if they have legally disowned all the content of the site.
From their front page, we next visit their page about animals:
This is the website page (I would say 'official page' but their page-disowning legal disclaimer sort of makes that a useless label at this point) available at the KFC site that talks about their policy on animal treatment.
First of all, you can try searching this page for the word "chicken". I've done it, and I wasn't successful. You may find the word "chicken" somewhere there.
"Yum! Brands is the owner of restaurant companies and, as such, does not own, raise, or transport animals. "
One of the first things said on this page is that the parent company of KFC doesn't handle animals. Well, the parent has disowned any animal whatsoever, so they really don't need to be mentioned or brought up again in determining the truthfulness of this story. Even if they are mutant animals, Yum! has nothing to do with them. Perhaps they have some responsibility at point of sale, and in truthful advertising, but for now we're just going to address the animals being used.
The rest of the links on the page are about safety and guidelines, which KFC may or may not strictly adhere to. I am not going to raise the question, because all we are concerned with here is whether or not they use real chickens. So, we will next follow the link at the very bottom which says "Poultry Welfare Guidelines" since the language deals directly with an animal (poultry):
This is the page at the KFC web site that talks about poultry, which is a word meaning large birds to be eaten.
I am going to count words on this page:
"Bird" occurs 13 times.
"Poultry" occurs 3 times.
"Chicken" occurs 1 time. Here is the paragraph:
"KFC prohibits its suppliers from using growth-promoting substances, and requires its suppliers to raise birds in clean chicken houses with appropriate space and proper ventilation. "
If the word "chicken" was used in reference to an actual bird or poultry, then we might put KFC in the clear and determine that their products actually are chickens. However, you might notice that the word is used in the term "chicken houses".
A "chicken house" could be described as housing, building, location, place, structure, or architecture. It is not a bird or poultry, per se. You could put anything in a chicken house: apples, bananas, video games, and mutants all fit inside chicken houses just fine, and they are still inside chicken houses.
If you put mutants inside a chicken house, it is still a chicken house.
The above KFC statement containing the word "chicken" cannot be used to determine the truthfulness of the story or the biological status of the animals.
Furthermore, all references to practices involving actual animals suddenly use the word "poultry" or "bird". The only time the word "chicken" is used is in reference to a type of building.
Arguably, my own house that you or I live is in a "chicken castle" or "chicken mansion". However, there might not be any chickens inside and you and I may never touch any real chickens any time in our life, even while we spend all our time inside a chicken castle.
Their page about animal welfare principles:
This page does not mention birds, poultry, or chicken.
There are recipes available from the web site, including a Chicken Pot Pie. The recipe involves chickens. It is possible that KFC uses real chickens for the small amount of meat needed in a tiny pie, but uses mutants for the huge drumsticks and breasts that you buy in the product called "Original Recipe".
It is now time for me to visit a KFC and order alleged chickens.
I felt it was a safe move not to ask any employees if the product was actual chicken. Instead I just ordered a 2-piece meal with biscuit, cole slaw, and macaroni and cheese.
Something interesting to note is that I did not say I ordered any chicken. In fact, unless I was interested in a pot pie or a honey BBQ tidbit, there was no chicken available. Those were the only two items on the menu to feature the word 'chicken'. Furthermore, those were the only two occurances of the word 'chicken' appearing anywhere in the store. Also, they had just run out of all honey BBQ food objects.
From the time I walked in the door to the time I walked out, everything was referred to as either 'meal', 'piece', 'thigh', 'leg', 'wing', or 'buffalo wing'. This is odd for a place trying to sell chicken.
McDonalds and Burger King both sell mainly beef, and this is apparent in most of their commercials and is advertised on the outside of most of their stores. When you walk into those burger joints, there are several notices that you are purchasing 'pure beef' or 'usda beef'. When you walk into a KFC, you apparently are lucky to spot the word 'chicken'.
Something else I noticed is that the inside of the franchise bears no resemblance to the bastard corporate website.
Something I notice on closely inspecting the plastic cup (there's no size marking any where on it, but I think it's about 20 oz.) is that the colonel is featured dancing and in the last frame of his cartoon it appears that his left arm has been severed. This isn't just a miscolor, either -- the line that makes up the drawing depicts his elbow attached to his ribcage and his shoulder dangling in mid-air. I guess that's karma.
I devoured the meal with a fever; whatever it's made out of, it's damn tasty. I wouldn't have any problem eating it even if KFC's public announcement was that it's made out of ten-legged battery chickens. In fact, since that would probably make the meal extremely cheap to produce and therefore cheaper to buy, I would probably enjoy it even more. I think environmentalism has its place, and food repression isn't it.
Anyways, back to trying to figure out if it's chicken or just tastes like it.
Everywhere you look, no matter who you ask, both the alleged hoaxers and the debunkers seem to be at a loss for anything but conjecture. Nobody can prove it, one way or the other.
Since we're at a total lack for any official word from KFC themselves, or even a willingness to stand by the content of their site, or even an official press release, the story goes on.
Finally there's the point of untestable litigation.
There have been mentioned here a few possible points where KFC might, in a world of mutant chickens, be guilty of false advertising. I stress might -- those two items they offer with the word 'chicken' could very well contain the more expensive, more terrestrial actual chicken entity. The pot pie probably contains minced, mechanically seperated chicken bits which aren't too expensive to store and ship. It would be worth the trade in consumer comfort to have that item on the menu that says 'chicken' even if it's the only chicken word in the store. And the website seems to stress avoiding actually saying outright "we sell you chicken at every restaurant!" and not only that but the official company policy is that the website basically sucks.
The only problem, of course, is that in a world of powerful lobbying, blind consumership, and socially imposed beliefs as 'norms', you would be hard pressed to find representation to litigate against KFC or any fans of your case. And, since they can hire teams of powerful lawyers, even those few little points of possibly false advertising can be defended far, far better than I have attempted to attack or defend them here.
I would like to finish on the note that all the debunking sites out there could be scientifically and skeptically presented truths, or they could be a network of web contacts paid by the corporations in question to work in tandem with the University of New Hampshire to attempt, however stolidly, to squash the information campaign regarding fake chickenry. The version of the letter containing false reports of a UNH study could even have been written by persons within the University of New Hampshire, for the obvious purpose of debunking the entire situation as a figment of somebody's imagination. This is a possibility not yet mentioned by any of the scientific debunkers on any of their sites.