So last Thursday we go to KFC for lunch.
I have a very strange relationship with fast food. I crave the stuff from time to time and its easy accessibility means that more often than not it’s within reach. It’s easy to sell and market, and it’s the low-hanging fruit of consumerism. People will always need food, and people go fast. Fast food is the obvious step in filling a market need.
At the same time, the marketing strategies and products used by the mega-conglomerates that own big pieces of the fast food businesses are often so misguided so as to seem completely repulsive.
A few of my friends have heard me bring up the term “KFC regret” in casual conversation. What is KFC regret? It encapsulates the entire KFC experience. It’s the narrative KFC (and parent Yum! Brands) spends billions of dollars trying to sweep under the rug. I don’t know why they bother – regret is retroactive. It only happens after the fact, when you’ve already spent money on KFC products.
However, this doesn’t mean KFC regret is exclusive to KFC. I just use it as a catch-all term. It’s a story, it’s a philosophy. It’s a universal piece of human nature. I have nothing against KFC, mind; it’s just that KFC is the easiest and most obvious example of this. There’s the low-hanging fruit for you.
Every trip to KFC is always the same.
It starts with a conversation, usually something to the effect of “Hey, let’s hit up KFC” or “I feel like some wings” or “I haven’t had fried chicken in a while, let’s go to KFC”. And it’s true! You haven’t had fried chicken in a while and fried chicken sounds hella good when you’re hungry. And then you go to KFC, usually in a group. The anticipation builds. There’s a line. You’re checking the menu, looking at all the gorgeous and clearly doctored pictures. The air is filled with the smell of chicken grease that’s soaked into the walls over months and months of continuous operation.
Then you look at the menu and think to yourself, Hm, they’re selling a two piece meal for $38HKD (five US dingalings). But wait – they have a promotion here! Three pieces plus some chicken a la king plus a freaking egg tart! And then you start doing some mental math. There are a few of you and a three piece meal is already a good chunk of money. Why not go the whole hog and get the better deal by ordering a bucket to share? I mean hell, three people, nine pieces of chicken. It’s cheaper than ordering three meals separately and you get a small mountain of sides, wings, hot shots and four drinks! Four! That’s three PLUS one extra! Score!
(KFC egg tarts really are hella good. They’re these little flaky Portuguese things, buttery, silky and crisp in equal measure.)
While you’re in the queue, someone always brings up the old rumor about vat-grown KFC chickens born without heads and like, eight wings or something. Or maybe a chicken that’s all breast meat and nothing else. Nervous laughter. None of this talk turns anyone off the food. You’re in the line already. You want that bucket meal and the gravy and that finger-licking extra crispy. Old lady in front of you in the queue is taking her sweet time because she wants her Kentucky Fried to go. You think she crazy. Who the hell would want to not eat Colonel’s fresh from the pressure fr-uh, warming racks displayed prominently behind the counters?
So you get the bucket. It’s a huge bucket. Unidentifiable parts of chicken tumble into the bucket. It’s huge. You can fit your entire head into one of those buckets. It becomes a game. Oh look, two pieces of thigh, that’s good. Screw your drumstick, there’s less meat on it. Aw no, the breast meat’s all white and chewy. Get some dark meat, because you’re a freaking connoisseur.
And then it begins. No fanfare. It’s not an event. It’s ugly and it’s dirty and it’s greasy. Something in your long-distant genetic memory sparks, and your brain conjures up images of cavemen huddled around a fire ripping pieces from a bloodied, twitching deer carcass. This is the way cavemen ate, tearing off great pieces of flesh with our fingers and teeth.
Except we’re better because cavemen don’t know shit about eleven herbs and spices and deep frying. That first bite – the crisp give of the encrusted skin parting to release a river of chicken grease and sodium into your mouth and down your lips and running down your chin – in that moment, everything KFC tells you seems like the gospel truth. Everything is perfect and all is right with the world. You are the beast and you are feeding.
There’s some science involved with the pressure frying process but you don’t give a shit because all you can think about is goddamn this chicken is so moist it’s falling off the bone and so wet with grease you could almost drink it without chewing. KFCs is finger lickin’ awesome. All hail the Colonel and all hail his original recipe. Praise God and praise Jewish God and praise Allah. America fuck yeah.
Somewhere between the second and the third piece of chicken this feeling goes away, and the cold glass of reality that’s been teetering over your head upends its load. When this happens the fantasy goes away and everything KFC has been telling you feels like a hollow, empty lie. It’s like waking up from dreams where you’re warm and wealthy and loved to find out that you’re alone and cold in the wilderness.
I like to think that this feeling is similar to the feeling guys get once they’re done with the act of solitary masturbation. It’d have to be, especially if they’re using Solitary Masturbation Devices (SMDs; they have to offer physical, tactile stimulation to count. Notable SMDs include dakimakuras, onaholes, and Macbook Airs). It’s almost magical when it happens. It’s like the world you’ve been desperately trying to push away comes back all at once.
The Colonel’s smile goes from welcoming and friendly to mocking and sinister. You can almost imagine Sanders going “Y’all motherfuckers got tricked. Can’t you finish my chicken, you little bitch? I thought your dumb ass said this shit was finger lickin’ good?”
The chicken is cooling, and the liquid grease is congealing on your face and fingers and inside your stomach into pasty rendered animal fat. Someone makes a crack about KFC being pigeon or rat meat. You look down at the saturated, pressure-fried pasty gray animal carcasses in the bucket. No one laughs. It does look like rat meat. You’ve never seen rat meat and you think this is probably what rat meat looks like.
There’s still chicken in the fucking bucket. And you keep eating, because to not eat would be a waste of all that chicken you bought. In that moment, you hate yourself for buying the chicken and you hate KFC for selling it to you. You hate the people you went to KFC with and you hate everyone who thought that getting KFC was a good idea.
At this point the signals from your body going OH GOD NO PLEASE JUST STOP NOT MORE CHICKEN SKIN can no longer be drowned out as the feeling of immediate hunger is sated. Every nerve in your body screams at you, telling you that what you are putting in it is junk, is poison, and barely even qualifies as food. You want to hide. You want to crawl inside a hole and die. You want to cover your face so the Lord God don’t see you as you are right now. You want to stick your head in the sand and pretend none of this ever happened. You’ll live off broccoli juice and never, ever, ever crack jokes about vegans ever again.
And then of course in a couple of months or so the entire cycle starts all over again.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Despite the godawful, godawful experience you’ve had at KFC, you end up going there again. Of course you go there again. After all, fried chicken is delicious, and it’s been a while since you’ve gone. And once again you’ll be faced with the mess of unidentifiable fried animal parts and that roiling sensation as your body fights to simultaneously digest and expel whatever the hell you just shoved in it.
This is why KFC still exists as a brand. Despite the misery. Despite the abject regret that always crashes down in every bucket of original recipe or extra crispy.
Because we go there again.
KFC regret exists because we know better and we do it anyway. It’s not exclusive to KFC. Smokers deal with it all the time. I’m pretty sure there is not one pack-a-day person out there who thinks it’s conducive to a longer lifespan. And yet here we are. Look at binge drinking. It always sounds like a great idea to get completely blind plastered. At least with alcohol the KFC regret doesn’t really hit until you wake up.
That’s not even getting into the really dangerous stuff, like, say, shopping at Walmart. Nobody needs or wants five copies of Timecop. But it sure as hell sounds like a great idea to buy five copies of Timecop! What if they run out of Timecop? You wouldn’t want to be the person who didn’t buy five copies of Timecop when that happened. Then you take it home and realize you’re a total fucking idiot for doing so and wonder how the hell your brain managed to trick you into buying five fucking copies of Timecop.
It’s distinct from guilty pleasure, because guilty pleasures are guilty. You feel bad while you’re doing it, or even before, but the pleasure outweighs the guilt. KFC regret is different in that you somehow manage to delude yourself into thinking it’s okay or even a great idea at the beginning. It’s retroactive.
So next time you or someone you know asks if you want to hit up a KFC, remember to brace yourself for the regret. You’ll say yes. They’re doing boneless.