In March 2012, Taco Bell released the first iteration of the Doritos Locos Taco, a standard Taco Bell taco with a Nacho Cheese Dorito-flavored shell instead of a standard Taco shell. It was a hit. In fact, it was, at one point, the best-selling item in all of fast food. I am no historian, but I have to assume that is where the snack food/fast food revolution began.Burger King’s Cheetos Chicken Fries follow in the footsteps of the limited-time Mac and Cheetos, which were precisely what they sound like — nuggets of mac and cheese fried with Cheeto breading. I never ate those, and it wasn’t because I thought they were gross. In order to stay with me, it’s important to know that I absolutely love garbage food. There are no combination of garbage, cheap food ingredients you could concoct together that would gross me out.
The thing about the Mac and Cheetos, however, were that Burger King was kind of “in” on the joke. Their commercials never treated them as if they were anything more than a somewhat funny invention, conjured in the minds of the dozen stoners in their research and development department. They didn’t try to convince you that the Mac and Cheetos were essential to your meal.
Yet, the Cheetos Chicken Fries seem like they are supposed to be a regular menu item. It’s odd, because the chicken fries themselves were a novelty item introduced in the mid 2000’s, discontinued, and brought back in early 2015. To be frank, they were little more than just thin, long chicken nuggets. Then came the spicy chicken fries, which were, obviously, the regular chicken fries but spicy. And now, as of today, we have the Cheetos chicken fries. As with the Mac and Cheetos, I wasn’t grossed out by the concept of the Cheetos chicken fries. I realize that I absolutely have a different brain chemistry than everyone who shudders at the idea of “chicken with cheese-flavored breading,” but it is what it is. I figured that the taste might be a bit off-putting, but it wouldn’t be a terrible snack. So, as one does, I took the N-train down to Canal Street to the closest Burger King to try them out.
When I walked in, I was scared they wouldn’t have them, as today was literally the first day they were being sold, and I didn’t want to be the guy who seemed to eager to eat a meal sponsored by Cheetos. However, they did have them and I did order them and I got them. I took all the photos featured, just so no one could accuse me of making anything up.
And they were… just alright. In fact, I was incredibly underwhelmed. I wanted to have my socks knocked off or have to throw out the whole box, but they were kind of just okay. I mean, in terms of fast food items they were pretty good, but there was basically no Cheeto taste whatsoever. What it ultimately tasted like was a crispier chicken fry. And of course most of you have never had a chicken fry because you don’t associate emotional comfort with simple, greasy foods, but trust me in saying that was an improvement.
But I sat there with the chicken fries in my mouth hoping to taste a tinge of that classic Cheeto cheddar and none came. I felt conned by the packaging. What’s the point of teaming up with a cheetah-mascotted brand if your final product isn’t going to be all-out crazy? And I know what you’re thinking: “Jake, you should stop biting your nails,” and yes I should. But also, “If it actually tasted like Cheetos, it would be disgusting. And you’re probably right. But I really wish they did because then I could feel justified for sitting alone in a Chinatown Burger King for twenty minutes.
I can’t help but feel that these Cheetos chicken fries are too familiar in America today. Because hasn’t half of the country been tricked into believing in the cheesiness of an obnoxious, disgusting, orange thing? The political polarization in America today is in large part due to the lack of recognition between the “two Americas” — the suburban and rural parts of the heartland and south, and the urban parts of the east and west. I can’t think of anything that would offend the sensibilities of my friends from the latter of those Americas more than a Cheeto chicken fry. It has been a point of ridicule across my social media. I don’t mind it being ridiculed, because it deserves it, but I don’t understand the shock at it.
I didn’t exactly grow up in bumfuck nowhere, but a “Cheeto chicken fry” is perfectly in line with the strip mall, chain restaurant, suburban America I grew up in. The mistake that the latter America makes in judging things like a “Cheeto chicken fry” is in assuming that the people who eat them think that they’re eating some fine delicacy, and that they don’t realize how gross it is, when, of course they do.
Sure, all of my NYU friends can gawk at me for caring so much about this horrible fast food item, and my love of chain restaurants over all, but gawking is precisely why so much of middle and southern America feels marginalized. Because what the heck is so wrong with a Burger King Cheeto chicken fry? How can the people of the coastal America be so surprised that the other America doesn’t listen to them about politics when they make fun of completely harmless things they do throughout the day?Let’s let fast food restaurants make whatever the heck they want because your “Oh my god, that’s so gross” could be someone else’s “that’s not bad,” and that is so perfectly okay. And all you get is resentment when you respond to something that you don’t like yourself with ire. One of Donald Trump’s greatest selling points is his apparent rejection of elitism (although this could all be for show, but whatever). Because while racism, sexism, and overall bigotry are definitely the main fuels to his campaign’s fire, it would not have grown so much if his voters didn’t feel like the people on TV and movies and in government looked down upon them for the way they lived their daily lives. The Cheeto chicken fries aren’t that bad. If someone enjoys shitty food, let them do it sincerely, because — and I hate to say things like this — there are much more important things to worry about.