“Nothing about boneless chicken wings actually comes from the wing of a chicken,” he told the Lincoln, Neb., council. “We’ve been living a lie for far too long.”
BySept. 3, 2020
The City Council meeting on Monday in Lincoln, Neb., started like many others: a library board appointment, applications to sell liquor, questions to the parks department about trenching and boring.
Almost two hours into the meeting, though, a man walked to the lectern and elevated a barroom debate — alongside others like “Is a burrito a sandwich?” and “What isn’t a ravioli?” — to a matter of civic importance. Recorded on the City Council’s livestream, the man declared a grievance that was so petty that it almost could not help but find an audience of hundreds of thousands of people who have watched it in the days since.
“Lincoln has the opportunity to be a social leader in this country,” the man, Ander Christensen, 27, said. “We have been casually ignoring a problem that has gotten so out of control that our children are throwing around names and words without even understanding their true meaning, treating things as though they’re normal.”
But the world was not normal, Mr. Christensen said. “I go into nice family restaurants and I see people throwing this name around and pretending as though everything is just fine,” he said. “I’m talking about boneless chicken wings. I propose that we as a city, remove the — ” Here laughter interrupted. Mr. Christensen had to plead, “Excuse me.”
He presented his proposal: “That we as a city remove the name boneless wings from our menus and from our hearts.”
No one interrupted now. He started to rattle off his reasons, which were in line with the complaints of many, many commenters online. “Nothing about boneless chicken wings actually comes from the wing of a chicken,” he said. “We would be disgusted if a butcher was mislabeling their cuts of meats, but then we go around pretending as though the breast of a chicken is its wing?”
He went further. “Boneless chicken wings are just chicken tenders, which are already boneless. I don’t go to order boneless tacos. I don’t go and order boneless club sandwiches,” he said. “It’s just what’s expected.”
And he said that mislabeling the chicken product was a full-blown societal woe. “Our children are raised being afraid of having bones attached to their meat,” he said. “That’s where meat comes from, it grows on bones. We need to teach them that the wing of a chicken is from a chicken, and it’s delicious.”
So rename the dish, Mr. Christensen suggested, at least in the city of Lincoln. “We can call them Buffalo-style chicken tenders,” he said. “We can call them ‘wet tenders.’ We can call them ‘saucy nugs,’ or ‘trash.’ We can take these steps and show the country that’s where we stand and that we understand that we’ve been living a lie for far too long, and we know it, because we feel it in our bones.”
One person applauded loudly. A city councilman, Roy Christensen — who is Mr. Christensen’s father — spoke up. “I would like to just comment here, for the record, that’s my son,” he said, with good humor and maybe some pride.
The speech was a joke — but it also wasn’t a joke, the younger Mr. Christensen said in an interview Wednesday. “I would love nothing more than to have boneless chicken wings removed from menus,” he said. “Don’t call it something it’s not.”
For years, the question of whether he wanted wings with or without bones at restaurants bothered him more and more, he said. “I’m asking for wings — why are you saying, ‘Do you mean a chicken breast?’”
He decided to take his complaint to the City Council because the meeting was the biggest platform he had. (He did not warn his father.) “I walked into that room thinking this is going to be something fun that dies at the end of the day,” he said. “Now I actually think something could happen, and I’m excited.
By Wednesday evening, the video had been seen more times than there are people living in Lincoln. “Officially, the issue is being taken under advisement by the City Council,” the elder Mr. Christensen said in an interview.
“Frankly, this is an issue that’s too large for a stage like the Lincoln, Neb., City Council,” he said. “This is probably something that would have to be addressed by the Department of Agriculture, since they take care of all the labeling. It’s gotten over three million hits, we may as well take this to the national level.”
The Food Safety and Inspection Service, a part of the U.S.D.A., “requires that labels on meat and poultry products are truthful and not misleading,” it said in a statement Thursday.
Items labeled “wings” must “include the entire wing with all muscle and skin tissue intact, except that the wingtip may be removed,” the statement said. “When a cut of poultry such as wing has the bone removed, the product name would need to be labeled to indicate that the bone is not present (e.g., ‘boneless chicken wings’ or ‘boned chicken wings’).”
The U.S.D.A.'s 2005 policy book does not appear to distinguish between boneless and bone-in wings, but says that meat or poultry products cooked with certain mild or spicy sauces can be labeled “Buffalo Style” or even “made in Buffalo, N.Y.” But the department adds, “Buffalo wings is a fanciful term that requires a descriptive name.”
Many wing lovers sneer at the boneless variety, which is usually made by deep-frying slices of chicken breast and has become a staple at many restaurants over the last two decades. But wings with bones continued to be more popular in general, the NPD Group, a market research company, found in a 2017 report titled “The Chicken Wing Dilemma.” More than 60 percent of wings served at restaurants had bones, the agency found, and most wing buyers felt loyal to their preferred style of chicken.
The younger Mr. Christensen, a chemical engineer, also prefers wings with bones. He said he did not want to be rid of boneless wings — only rename them — even if he finds them “awful.”