The chain drew undue outrage due to the food additive’s bad reputation.

By Tim Nelson
June 10, 2019

Though beloved by many, Chick-fil-A is no stranger to controversy. The deeply religious, Georgia-based chicken chain with well over 2,000 locations has made headlines over the years for its donations to groups with perceived anti-LGBT agendas, sparking calls for boycotts and a move to try and ban the restaurant from San Anotnio’s airport earlier in 2019. But with its latest bit of bad press, it seems that for once the issue seems to have to do with what’s in Chick-fil-A’s food. 

Lately, it’s been making the rounds that every teen’s favorite restaurant is one of the few fast food chains that still incorporates monosodium glutamate, more infamously known as MSG, into their peanut oil-fried chicken. To detractors on social media, it’s just another example of the company doing things the wrong way. But a closer investigation of what exactly MSG is and the function it serves shows that the outrage in this case might be manufactured. 

To the average consumer, MSG probably makes you think of a flavor enhancer frequently found in Asian cuisine. Though the “sodium” part of its name implies a similarity to salt, it’s actually more than that: the chefs and corporations who cook or create food products containing MSG believe it imparts a sense of “umami,” a taste associated with rich, earthy flavors. 

Because of its chemical-sounding name, MSG has been derided as unhealthy, supposedly engendering symptoms of nausea and headaches (among other things) upon consumption. But according to the Food and Drug Administration, MSG is a food additive that is “generally recognized as safe.” There are currently no reputable, peer-reviewed studies that indicate that consumption of MSG gives rise to the symptoms often attributed to it, or any longer-term adverse health effects. 

Of course, given that the FDA is a government organization and MSG is found in big-name consumer products like Doritos and Hidden Valley’s ranch dressing, there’s always a chance that corporate interests have successfully forestalled proper investigations into MSG. But what’s more likely is that our stigmatization of MSG stems from 20th century anti-Asian sentiment, a connection possibly forged by the fact that Chinese restaurants were frequently opened as a method to circumvent xenophobic immigration policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act. 

So yeah: just like salt, eating a ton of monosodium glutamate at once isn’t the healthiest thing you can do. But in normal quantities, it’s not going to kill you. If you’re going after Chick-fil-A, call them out for the corporate donations they continue to make to groups with anti-LGBT stances years after saying they’d stop. Just leave the MSG out of it. 

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