You don’t need to be Teiresias or Nostradamus to know that we’re living in dire times. Regions across the world are growing more unstable by the day. Thirty million people in the United States don’t have health insurance. You have a sizable portion of America’s working class laboring two to three jobs a day. And if you placed the average UNH student in a room without any means of stimulation, chances are in about 10 minutes you’ll have a crazed lunatic jumping off the walls frothing with malignant terror over the fact that they’re almost $100,000 in student debt. It’s 80 degrees in October. Kanye West is wearing a MAGA hat. We’re currently living in a culture engorged with wickedness and depravity.
We live in a constant state of fight or flight. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, I think I might have the cure. The anecdote to our aggression, the vaccine to our combustion, the device to kick us into neutral and keep us from burning out too quickly – is comfort food. More specifically, fried chicken.
Now, you might want to re-read that last sentence, and perhaps take a moment to check your pulse. But once you’ve stabilized yourself, get back on the horse and carry on. What we need right now in this fucked up time is a moment to breathe. We need to throw our calendars out the window and crank up the music. We need to be around friends, family and people you’ve never spoken to. We need community, camaraderie. And there is no better tool than fried chicken.
Let’s rewind a year. I’m a student at Nashua Community College, fulfilling my final requirements for my associate’s degree, and working 45 hours a week at the grocery store I’ve worked at for the last four years. I’m a mess. Each day is a repeat of the same thing that happened the day before. I wake up, I go to school, I leave school, I go to work, I come home, I fall asleep. Rinse, repeat. I feel myself getting angrier at people who drive under the speed limit. My hostility intensifies for customers lecturing me why they tend to go to the grocery store down the street instead of the one I’m working in right now. Something needed to change. So I poured myself into something I had always enjoyed, but radicalized my enthusiasm. I started to cook.
Cooking is practice of expression. It’s a constructive, creative, and meditative process that gives you gratification, and satisfaction upon completion. The precision involved in slicing and dicing peppers and onions, the attentiveness necessary to tell when a piece of meat is perfectly cooked and the taste of something you’ve made yourself are all reasons why cooking is the perfect escape from the worry and turmoil of your everyday life.
I cooked a lot of different things. I made steak and roasted potatoes with garlic-infused asparagus. I made chocolate mousse with homemade whipped cream. I made pulled pork sliders and coleslaw with corn on the cob. But I had one muse, a challenger who kept me guessing each time I tried to make sense of it: fried chicken.
Fried chicken is a culinary behemoth and has probably forced many to quit cooking altogether and rely solely on Hungry Man and Tyson frozen meals until they inevitably die. It’s a food that, if you don’t respect it or give it the attention it deserves, will kick your ass. The seasoning of the flour, the temperature of the oil, and the way the chicken is breaded are all pivotal elements to ensuring you have the perfect, flavorful, tender fried chicken. It’s not something that comes naturally the first time around. Unfortunately, like most important skills, it requires practice: trials of not breading enough; not getting the temperature hot enough; getting 400 degree oil shot into your eye.
Separate from the fried chicken itself is the experience that comes after. What makes fried chicken so worth the trouble is the reward of sharing what you’ve made with the people you love. One of my favorite moments of that time of soul-crushing monotony was a night in early October where my friends came over and I made them fried chicken. They sat around my kitchen table as I went through the artform, drinking and laughing, what about, I can’t remember. But I love that night because within that kitchen for about two hours, I forgot about school. I forgot about work. And I forgot about all the things that get me so fired up.
Escapism is an undervalued commodity that we often feel guilty for. But it’s not the same thing as burying our heads in the sand. It’s important to be active and aware of what’s going on in our whirling thunderstorm of a world. But we can’t let that anger and frustration deprive us of our common humanity. In such a crazy time to be an American, or just to be a human, now more than ever must we remember that we all have families. We all have friends who we ache to see at the end of every week and we all have passions that make us so much more than our physical forms. In a time of so much hate, and so much divisiveness, what’s a better way to come together than to share a meal?