This is something that happened awhile back, but I’m still playing catch-up here and I thought it might remain relevant …
If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably heard about the latest from our old friends at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Several weeks back, venerable old KFC, that wonderful bastion of good ol’ American saturated fat, debuted their latest product: grilled chicken. That’s right, they decided to try kicking the F out of their usual recipe and start offering unbreaded, non-deep-fried chicken as a healthier alternative. Well, the fam and I were intrigued — especially I, who has been trying different ways to lose weight (without much success, alas) for several months. So a few weeks ago, we went into our local KFC and picked up a bucket of … well, I guess you could call it KGC? They had plenty in stock (apparently the rush created by Oprah’s promotion hadn’t quite hit Stockton yet) and it was being offered for the same price as their traditional 11-herb-and-spices don’t-hold-the-cholesterol recipe. All to the good, right.
Well, except for one small problem. The stuff was terrible.
It wasn’t exactly uneatable … but it didn’t taste good. Frankly, the pieces of KGC that we had looked, smelled and tasted like someone had coated them with a thin layer of edible varnish, in an odd shade of brown. No herbs and spices seemed to be present. And without the breading KFC normally uses, we got to see how small the pieces of chicken really were — significantly smaller than the ones we buy at the supermarket for under a dollar a pound, that’s for certain. We managed to eventually get through the bucket … a couple of days later … and it was mostly me, as my kids weren’t interested.
Now maybe I just got a bad batch, or KFC/KGC is still working out the kinks in the recipe. But the servings we got were far inferior to what I could make at home for a lot less money — and my cooking, while not disastrous, isn’t anything for Oprah to write home about. So all in all, pretty disappointing, Colonel.
But it got me thinking about something. Why are so many things that are touted as being good for us in one way or another so often deficient in other areas?
It doesn’t have to be that way. For instance, if you want to go out and eat healthy food, there are places you can go where the servings are nutritious AND tasty. Subway has that great “6 grams of fat or less” menu that includes most of my favorites of their sandwiches, and Chinese food tends to be loaded with vegetables. Some people swear by sushi too; I tend to prefer it more as an appetizer than a main dish. And now that we’re past the first of May, the local farmer’s markets are open with enough fruit to keep you regular into the next millenium. It’s not like if it’s good, it has to be yucky.
Or how about “organic” products that cost several times as much as their less environmentally friendly counterparts? A friend of mine once sent me a bottle of special bubble bath for my kids that was biodegradable and more “earth-friendly” than the usual brands. The kids liked it, so I went online to see if I could get some more … and found out it cost $12 for a 16-ounce bottle. We decided to stick with the $3-a-pint brand instead.
I can’t help but think, though, that there are plenty of “green” products that are just as good as the … what would you call them, “brown” ones? … that we’re used to buying. A company called Seventh Generation seems to be making a killing in just such a niche: environmentally-friendly versions of items that usually end up poisoning water tables and filling up landfills: cleaning agents, diapers, toilet paper et al. And while their products cost more than I’m used to paying, that’s largely because I tend to buy generic — their prices are comparable with high-end products that aren’t as nice to the soil and water. So it’s doable.
One more example, one that’s close to my heart. “Christian music” that is of much lower quality than the songs put out by rank atheists and whatnot. I worked in Christian radio for seven years, and I have to be honest, much of the music that was offered to us to play was a classic example of Sturgeon’s Law (“ninety percent of everything is crap”). Some of it got on the air too. And it was generally expected in the circles in which I traveled that Christians should listen only to Christian music because … well, because it was Christian music. After all, you didn’t want to be putting that secular music into your soul and being influenced by it, did you? What qualified as “Christian music” was rarely if ever defined, so many Christian artists were and still are allowed to turn out:
- music with solid spiritual lessons in the lyrics but of low musical and sound quality.
- music that was solid in terms of sound fidelity and musicianship but devoid of substantive content.
- music that wasn’t very good in terms of music quality or doctrine, but which was allowed to pass because the “artist” was known to be a believer.
I’m naming no names, you notice — you can fill in those categories as you please.
But again, it didn’t have to be like that, and while often it was, sometimes it wasn’t. There were and are Christian musicians who make music of the highest quality instrumentally, lyrically and sonically, and whose songs carry the message of the Christian faith quite ably. I’m thinking of one of my own biggest heroes, the late Rich Mullins, but that description could also fit David Meece or Margaret Becker or Casting Crowns. Jars of Clay is a great band, one that has received honors from the world’s music systems without ever compromising their spiritual or musical integrity. Same with Third Day and Kathy Troccoli (my son’s favorite singer). The rap duo G.R.I.T.S. works hard to bring the gospel to the streets with strong Biblical messages linked to a musical style that has gained them favorable comparisons with groups like OutKast. And I can count on one hand the number of guitarists I’ve heard in my life that are as skilled and versatile on their instrument as Phil Keaggy — and Phil is more enthused about the things of God than almost anyone. So yeah, there are plenty of artists out there that Christians can play for their non-Christian friends without cringing.
So why are there the lower-quality items — the health food that’s bad for the taste buds, the “green” products that cost too much green, the cheap “Christianized” knockoffs of popular music? If I had to guess … I think it’s just laziness. People who don’t want to do the work necessary to make a quality product can often still find a way to sell it if they find a niche to pander to, or can overcharge in that same niche with the right sales pitch.
But in doing that, they bring all their peers into disrepute. How many times have you heard, “if it’s good for you, it must taste bad”? It’s so common that it qualifies as cliche — even though I can recall numerous healthy meals, ranging from homemade to store-bought to restaurant, that were delicious! A few bad attempts at health food have soured a lot of people on the whole field. I’m now suspicious of any “organic” product, immediately scoping the price tage to see how much they’re planning to gouge me for. And don’t get me started on the folks who’ve said to my face, “all Christian music is garbage,” but who hadn’t hear even one of the artists I mentioned above.
Elbert Hubbard (not Ralph Waldo Emerson, as is commonly believed) once said, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” Not a mousetrap with a better label — a better one. If your output is of high quality, regardless of the field we’re in, your audience will evetually come. Nobody ever failed because of an excess of skill.
And maybe in a year, I’ll try Kentucky Grilled Chicken again and see if they’ve improved on it. Until then, though, I’m crying “fail.”