(Latest Weekend Argus column, as submitted)
DEAR me, the year is but a week old, and already it has thrown up a foul pun opportunity for the sub-editors.
I refer, of course, to the Frankenchicken outrage, in which a large-scale, up-country supplier, Supreme Poultry, has apparently gone bonzo in the genetically-modified food department, allegedly “treating” its stale and rotting frozen birds so that they be rebranded and sold with new expiry dates.
What happens is that the old chickens are returned to the supplier and they’re thawed for 24 hours at room temperature, injected with brine, and then repackaged and sold with new expiry dates.
Sometimes the birds are treated with chlorine to reduce what is charmingly referred to in the news reports as “bacterial load”.
Call it working the wilder frontiers of sustainable food resource management, but the “reworking”, if you’ll pardon the poultry jargon, of vrot chicken is, according to Supreme Poultry, an accepted industry-wide practice.
Pausing for reflection, the more sophisticated reader may wish to dwell upon the notion that almost overnight, as it were, an expired chicken has, in a process rich with the irony of the post-modern gesture, become an “expired” one. The notion of “chicken”, therefore, actually far outlives the chicken. (At this point, aesthetes may cease retching; it is a cathartic moment -- and therefore high art.)
The lumpen among us, however, have had their suspicions confirmed. All along we knew the chicken tasted of fish -- and not just any old fish, either, but fish farmed in a swimming pool.
Imagine the exchange at the local brasserie:
“Please inform the chef that I cannot eat this...”
“And why not? Is it not to sir’s taste?”
“No, it is not. Sir was expecting the chicken breast to taste of chicken, albeit one complemented by the flavours of the pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and Parma ham stuffed therein. This, on the other hand, tastes of Ryk Neethling’s Speedo.”
“If I may remind sir of the starving masses in Africa...”
“At this moment, sir is well aware of what it means to go hungry...”
But we digress. The zombie fowls have predictably upset the South African Communist Party, who have set about the matter with the customary brio that has made them the most feared Stalin organists of the 21st century.
Delving deep into his grab bag of tired rhetoric and fustian bilge, party spokesman Malesela Maleka has cobbled together the customary nonsense with all the usual culprits. “We are not shocked,” he noted, “precisely because we have always known the capitalist system knows no decent bounds in its insatiable pursuit of profits.”
There is, I suspect, a bit of a pork pie in that. Not about capitalism and profit, but about about being shocked. Otherwise why the bluster about tips of the iceberg and the appeals to both the departments of health and trade and industry to urgently investigate this affair?
The party was also outraged (but not shocked apparently) at the claim by Supreme Poultry that the Frankenchicken was not sold to the big supermarket chains but to wholesalers and spaza shops, Maleka said.
“This can only mean that rotten chicken is being sold to poor black South Africans, the majority of whom buy from ‘cheap’ wholesale outlets and spaza shops. This is a racist trading practice and is offensive in the extreme.”
Point taken, and here at the Mahogany Ridge we shall certainly be thinking twice before asking for a bit of white meat at the Sunday roast. In fact, we may abandon chicken altogether. Who knows who those wholesalers are? Supreme Poultry’s certainly not saying.
But I suspect SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande expects a little more from us. This week he too had a quick dip into that bag of tired slogans and, ignoring the May 1973 sell-by date, made all sorts of alarming noises which may or may not have contributed to the soaring temperatures: the “bourgeois print media [had] turned one blind eye to the seriousness of this matter”; there was “ideological hypocrisy by the bourgeois establishment and its meat producers”; and worse still, the silence of the “liberal constitutionalists”, which safeguarded the “interests of the elites”.
Ultimately, though, it was all about weight -- or as Nzimande put it, “this ‘strange’ phenomenon of shrinking chicken”. Quoting Zimbabwean sources, he claimed that, when cooked, the zombie bird reduced considerably, sometimes by as much as 40% of its original weight. All that frozen brine, apparently.
But South Africans are used to being short-changed. Look at what they’re promised by politicians. And look at what they get in return for their faith.
In the meantime we may sadly be forced to become vegetarian.