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Playing Chicken with Chicken?
A new class-action lawsuit is turning beaks.
I recently heard about a guy named Aimen Halim who, earlier this month, filed a class-action lawsuit against Buffalo Wild Wings. The basis for the lawsuit is Halim’s contention that the popular restaurant-chain’s advertised “boneless wings” are not made with chicken wings but rather chicken breasts.
And guess what? He’s right. Buffalo Wild Wings outright admits it, and generically describes the fried item on their menu as "all-white chicken." The company even had a little fun the other day at Halim’s expense:
But Halim’s not in this for laughs. He’s looking for green. According to him, the restaurant’s “deceptive marketing” entitles him and other restaurant patrons to a punitive award, along with lawyers fees and a trial by jury, for damages they incurred as a result of being misled.
The extent of those “damages” isn’t entirely clear, but they have to be “substantial” in order to receive a class certification.
Now, my guess is that most people reading this would probably agree that turning this gripe into a legal matter was kind of stupid. It’s almost certainly a case of a guy, who has entirely too much time on his hands (and probably an aversion to honest work), looking for a quick payday. Additional information that has since come out on him would seem to further support that theory:
Court records show that Halim has also filed suits against Colgate-Palmolive, the makers of Tom's Wicked Fresh Mouthwash, which he claims is not as "natural" as advertised. He also filed a similar suit against KIND, arguing the "high in fiber" label on their granola is misleading. And in a since-dismissed case against the makers of Hefty recycling bags, Halim argued that the bags are not actually recyclable.
But here’s the deal, in regard to my choice to write about this topic this week… Similar to Liam Neeson, I have a very particular set of skills — skills that I acquired during my teens and early 20s, that I believe can be of assistance in some deeper analysis of this matter.
No, I don’t have a legal background (unless you count knowing a few attorneys, and pretending to pay attention to the cases my wife watches on Dateline NBC). It’s something better than that.
You see, I worked at a chicken-dinner restaurant (one of the finest in the Denver area) for several years, first as a busboy, then as a take-out worker, then as a waiter.
I know things about chicken. Specifically fried chicken. Not as much as Bubba from Forrest Gump knew about shrimp, but I enough.
So, I feel it would be neglectful on my part if I didn’t tap into that experience, and carefully consider the potential risks of consuming chicken-breast meat under the false perception that it’s chicken-wing meat.
Before I begin, however, let me place all my cards (and biases) on the table:
When it comes to chicken, I strongly prefer dark meat. Thighs are the best, but I like drumsticks as well. I have no real white-meat preference beyond portion size. If I’m hungry, I’ll usually eat a breast before a wing, but taste-wise I don’t really care.
I’ve only been to Buffalo Wild Wings once or twice, and thought their food was just okay.
I’ve never been terribly bothered by the concept of mystery meat. For example, when I was a kid, there was a strong rumor that The Original Hamburger Stand served kangaroo meat in its burgers. And you know what? I would have been totally cool with that because those burgers tasted freakin’ great! Unless someone tries to slip a domestic pet onto my plate, I don’t get all that worked up about the nature of meat. As comedian Chris Rock used to joke, “I'll eat a pig's ass if they cook it right.”
Now, let’s get down to business…
What Halim has working against him right off the bat is that both the breast and the wing are white meat. If dark meat were being secretly substituted in, he’d be in a better position to claim health damages. But white meat is leaner and lower in cholesterol. It also has fewer calories. While someone downing a large number of “boneless wings” that were actually comprised of dark meat could conceivably suffer a Chris Farley-esque SNL-style heart attack earlier in life than if they had stuck with white meat…
… that’s not what’s going on here. We’re talking about white meat vs. white meat — white on white wrongdoing. The dietary differences between breasts and wings are pretty negligible, but those that do exist actually favor the breast as the healthier of the two cuts. Thus, I can’t imagine Halim and his lawyers being able to demonstrate an increased health risk.
Fiscally, Halim may have a better argument, one that’s actually touched on in his lawsuit:
Had Plaintiff and other consumers known that the Products are not actually chicken wings, they would have paid less for them, or would not have purchased them at all.
You see, pound for pound, wings are the most expensive chicken cut there is, in large part because they’re in increasingly high-demand as appetizers… including at chicken-wing specialty restaurants like — you guessed it — Buffalo Wild Wings. So, I suppose there’s an argument to be made that a customer purchasing what he or she believes to be wings, and instead receiving breasts, is getting the old bait and switch with a lower valued item.
Still, we’re not talking about a big price discrepancy. How many “boneless wings” would someone have to purchase at Buffalo Wild Wings, before they could point to “substantial” financial damage caused by the difference in cost? And does anyone even consider market prices when it comes to individual cuts of chicken?
Again, I think Halim his has work cut out (*ba-dum-tshh*) for him here.
Going back to my point earlier about The Original Hamburger Stand, I should clarify that while I personally couldn’t have cared less if the fast-food chain’s patties had been made of kangaroos, I can totally understand others feeling differently about that. I could even envision such a revelation causing genuine, Soylent Green-like psychological damage to an individual, especially someone with a particular affinity for those high-jumping critters… or perhaps just fond childhood memories of the Lionel Playworld toy-store franchise.
But we’re talking about cuts from the same animal — cuts, of the same type of meat, that are in direct contact with each other, right up until the point when they are… well, cut. Thus, I think it will be quite difficult for Halim to demonstrate “substantial” psychological damage caused by ingesting one over the other.
Is it possible that Halim could have a genuine psychological fear of chicken breasts, perhaps caused by a traumatic childhood attack by a chicken? I guess so. But what would possibly be the nature of such an attack that would leave one in fear of a breast but not a wing? I mean, when it comes to any kind of tussle with a chicken, the breast would objectively be about the least dangerous part of the bird, right? A breast isn’t sharp. It’s not kicking or flapping around. A fear so selective just doesn’t make sense.
And even if there were some explanation along these lines that I’m not considering, how many other people could possibly claim to be a victim of the same circumstance? Certainly not enough to justify the class certification.
Well, I tried. I did my best to build up Aimen Halim’s case for “substantial” damage caused to him and others by ordering and eating chicken breasts labeled “boneless wings,” but the arguments just don’t feel very persuasive.
So, I’m compelled to fall back on my original estimate that Halim is playing a (really lame) game of chicken — over chicken — with a company whose winged-buffalo logo looks more to him like dollar signs.
Honestly, he’d probably have better luck suing Wienerschnitzel, because the pun-fallout alone could cause “substantial” damage.
Have you been a victim of chicken injustice? Tell me about it in an email or in the comment section below.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Too humiliated to even look at each other.
This week’s featured vinyl was donated to me a while back by my Uncle Michael. It arrived in the mail on my doorstep one day, along with 30 or so other albums that I believe were part of his later father’s collection. I think my uncle was intrigued that someone my age still appreciated vinyl, so he sent me what he had, and told me to keep what I liked (and do whatever I wanted with the rest).
I’m not a big Jim Croce fan, but I remember hearing a lot from him on my family’s kitchen radio when I was a kid, especially “Time in a Bottle.” I think I like the tune more now than I did back then, and that might have something to do with a particular movie scene.
Anyway, the song is of course on his greatest hits album here, along with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and lots of others.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!