Kung Pao chicken menaces human race

MIKE ROYKO

September 08, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

First it was eggs. I loved poached eggs on hash.

Then it was steaks, pork shanks, pork chops, pork ribs, corned beef, Italian sausage, Polish sausage, salami, chicken livers, grilled liver and bacon, liverwurst and almost any kind of cheese, especially the ones that smell bad and taste good.

The experts said I had to stop eating these dangerous foods or I would not live long enough to experience aching joints, a wrinkled face, hearing loss, failing eyesight, prostate problems, triple-bypass, memory lapses, gumming food and other delights of the twilight years.

So I ate turkey, as the experts advised. The Pilgrims would be in awe of the number of turkeys I have gleelessly devoured.

And broiled chicken. Without the deadly skin, of course. Fish, too, but not the way I like it: dipped in flour, egg, crumbs, and deep fried. But broiled, with a sprinkle of lemon juice. Not a drop of treacherous butter. How thrilling.

Once in a while, though, there would be a treat. A carry-out order of Kung Pao chicken. It is chicken, so it has to be OK, right?

Wrong. The food watchdogs, damn their scrawny hides, are at it again.

I won't be surprised if the Chinese calendar is revised to make this the Year of the Rat-Fink Public Interest Groups.

As tens of millions of horrified TV viewers saw all day and evening last Thursday, Kung Pao chicken is on the eat-healthy hit list.

Not only Kung Pao, but egg rolls, sweet and sour pork, fried rice and other Chinese goodies.

A consumer outfit called Center for Science in the Public Interest -- a crew of sneaks -- bought carryout food at Chinese restaurants in several cities and had it analyzed by a laboratory.

(Why can't they devote their energies to finding a cure for baldness?)

And they triumphantly announced that eating Kung Pao chicken and all sorts of Chinese dishes would pump as much fat, cholesterol and salt into you as umpteen Egg McMuffins or Big Macs.

The TV news shows went crazy for the story. Especially CNN, which ran it about every two minutes, showing plates of the gorgeous food while some skinny harpy talked about this new danger to mankind.

It was a bad day for those of us who regularly tote cartons of Chinese food home, thinking we are doing both taste buds and arteries a favor.

But it was an even worse day to be a Chinese restaurant owner. I won't be surprised if the Chinese calendar is revised to make this the Year of the Rat-Fink Public Interest Groups.

Some of the restaurant owners spoke up about this attack on their product.

Allen Lee, who owns the popular King Wah in Chicago's Chinatown, said:

"I am surprised and upset. It's a little unfair because of the foods they selected. There are many Chinese dishes that have less fat and calories.

"Also, Chinese eat differently than Americans who are not Chinese. We eat family style. One dish can feed two or three Chinese. We order soup, vegetables, rice, maybe a fish dish.

"But Americans come in and each person has their own dish. Sometimes they all order beef. That's not our fault."

The view that non-Chinese diners tend to stuff themselves with the wrong food was echoed by Mrs. Bernie Wong, a Chinese civic leader:

"It's unfortunate and unfair that they chose to present the information the way they did. Anyone who knows anything about the Chinese knows you eat Kung Pao chicken only a few times a year, at most. Non-Chinese order it all the time. But we know it will kill you if you eat it too often.

"All the samples they selected were heavy in sauce, oil and meat. That's unfair. There are so many selections in Chinese food. You can eat very healthfully without eating Kung Pao chicken.

"Also, it's much healthier to eat the way the Chinese do, not the way Americans do. We take a bowl of white rice and chopsticks and you pick up the food so the oil and sauce drip off. You don't spoon huge spoonfuls like Americans do. Americans spoon it with the sauce and oil and you eat all of that up.

What the Chinese do is scoop several scoops of rice. Then one little, dainty chopstick of the entree. We also choose more vegetable dishes.

"Our chamber of commerce is having a meeting on this to see if we can counteract this perception. I see it as an attack on our ethnic group. Nobody asked us. They just picked the three non-average dishes we don't eat."

Even more vehement was Bennie Chung, manager of the popular Imperial Palace in San Francisco's Chinatown. He sounded shocked:

"What? Chinese food fattening as McDonald's? That's crazy. How can they say that? Just look at Chinese. Chinese are very skinny. We eat Chinese food every day our whole lives and we stay skinny. But American people are very fatty. So how can they say that?"

And they all recommended that I stay away from Kung Pao chicken and switch to something like steamed fish.

Steamed fish?

Pass the skinless turkey.

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