Flightless Birds Cross The Atlantic

Two unrelated but worthwhile short reads in The Atlantic. First, in a recent post on my slow-onset, creeping, sorta-kinda vegetarianism (maybe, someday), I wrote:

After having actually seen a chicken farming factory or a slaughterhouse, it’s hard to square that unbelievable suffering and disrespect for the dignity of living things with the bland banality of McNuggets. And that disengagement between the shapelessness of the McNuggets and the actual, dead animal is vital to maintaining the industry that provides living things for consumption.

And lo and behold, it turns out a team of researchers just dissected two random chicken nuggets from fast food stores in the US. You know, for science. The results were … unappetizing:

“Chicken nuggets are mostly fat, and their name is a misnomer.” That is, “because the predominant components aren’t chicken.” At least, not in the sense that chicken implies meat (not fat and skin)

A conclusion that seems at odds with my own idea that maybe knowing how the McNugget is made would make it unappealing is this disheartening description of a Jamie Oliver show:

“When chicken is processed, there’s some chicken left on the bone,” deShazo—who also hosts a wellness program on the local public radio affiliate— explained. “You can actually vibrate that stuff off, and you get these chicken leftovers, and you can put it together, mix it up with other substances, and come out with a goo that you can fry and call a chicken nugget. It’s a combination of chicken, carbohydrates, and fats, and other substances that make it glue together. It’s almost like super glue that we’re eating. In some fast-food restaurants.”

Chef Jamie Oliver made nuggets that way a few years ago on his television show Food Revolutionin front of kids, chopping and blending a remnant carcass. The feckless children screamed, but still asked to eat the nuggets. “We’ve brainwashed our kids so brilliantly,” Oliver said, “that even though they know something is disgusting and gross, they’ll still eat it if it’s in that friendly little shape.”

Ick.

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And while I’m in the business of depressing you, here’s a thought: while you’re surfing the net, you’re also not doing useful stuff. Research has now looked at the stuff you are not doing while reading this:

Unsurprisingly, the time people spend on the computer “for leisure” has increased exponentially in the last few years. However, computer leisure still comprises a mere 13 minutes of the five hours of leisure time the average American has in the day.

Even so, this computer time has a notable impact, eating into things like sleep, work, travel, and household chores. For every minute that they spend lazing on the computer, Americans spend approximately 16 fewer seconds working, seven fewer seconds sleeping,  six fewer seconds traveling, four fewer seconds doing household chores, and three fewer seconds educating themselves. Although Wallsten can’t prove that more computer time causes less sleep, for instance, he concludes, “that online activities, even when free from monetary transactions, are not free from opportunity cost.”

I’m reminded of Clay Shirky’s concept of “cognitive surplus”, how people have started sinking leisure time into things that aren’t mindless entertainment and gin. I wonder at what scale our newfound cognitive surplus is being crowded out by Facebook.

Shirky’s shorter talk on the subject (there are longer versions + a book floating about out there), from TED three years back:

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