Welcome to our fourth installment of Bite Me, a series featuring essays from some of our favorite writers and cultural icons on one of our site's most popular topics: food. More specifically, we'll hear about their unlikely food obsessions, controversial food beliefs, and weird food hang-ups. Next up, Arianna Davis on her number one food enemy: chicken wings.
It happens every time. There I am, sitting at a restaurant, or a party, or a cookout, and everyone around me is chowing down on dozens upon dozens of chicken wings. Not a single person is talking. The only sound is the slow-motion lip-smacking slurp of barbecue sauce as each person uses their teeth to tear itty-bitty pieces of meat off of black-and-purple-bones. After repeating the routine several times, each one of them places the entire portion of chicken carcass into their mouth, sucking and swishing and swallowing, before retrieving it and setting down the creature’s remains and then slowly running their tongues across each finger, one by one, as if that sauce is the last thing they will ever taste in their entire lives.
In front of them will be a plate, or a bowl, or a napkin, piled high with the scraps of bird skeletons. And then, before they reach for another yet-to-be-ravaged-wing, someone will offer me one. I will take a second before I blink, an effort to bring myself back to reality and remind myself that no, we are not in an episode of The Walking Dead.
I will politely decline, and then they’ll push the plate towards me again, telling me not to be shy because they are the best wings ever and I just have to have one because ohmygodtheyaresogood. And then I have to explain that when I kindly said no, thank you, it’s not because I was full, or trying to be polite, but because I just do not like chicken wings. In fact, I despise chicken wings. In my opinion, they are quite literally the most disgusting food on the entire planet, and I would rather eat a gooey slime-covered slug or a jiggly, bloody steak or basically anything else.
That’s when (every time!) the entire world stops. I feel dozens of eyeballs; jaws drop; crickets chirps — and then somebody, inevitably, will ask:
“You don’t like wings?! WHAT?! Why?!”
Dear reader, before you ask me this same question, or skip the rest of this article to head down to the comments section and try to convince me why I must not have had the right wings, or to ask if I’ve had boneless wings, or if I’ve tried buffalo sauce or any other ah-mazing pineapple-habanero-barbecue-jerk-lemon-chipotle sauce concoction, let me stop you right there. I am nearly 30 years old. (Yes, nearly. As in, holding on to the last month of my twenties for dear life.) For almost three decades, I have tried my hardest to learn to like these freakin’ things.
I’m a football fan; I can’t even begin to tell you how many parties I’ve attended where wings were the main event and I had to settle for some carrots with ranch dressing or dry ass potato chips because I just could not. I went to Penn State, where ordering Wings Over Happy Valley is practically a religious ritual; while my two best friends bonded over wing nights in our college apartment, I was off to the side, eating ramen noodles or a bad excuse for a quesadilla from the local Mexican place. And now, when I find myself stumbling around with my crew at 4 a.m. in search of nourishment, I'm SOL if I'm not in NYC and there's no 24-hour McDonald's or pizza place nearby. At this point, I'm used to settling for whatever castoff foods the wing place has to offer, while my friends go to town.
The other reason I have tried my hardest to learn to like this so-called “food” is because there is also often a second part to the “You don’t like wings?!?!” question: “And you’re Black?!?!”
Don’t worry. Typically the person who’s shocked that I’m Black and don’t like wings is another Black person. (Thank God.) But yes, there has long been a stereotype that all Black people love fried chicken, a generalization with roots in slavery and soul food that became problematic in the early 20th century when eating chicken became a common caricature of Black characters in movies and minstrel shows. It’s since become one of those stereotypes that our culture has been able to reclaim in our own way; we’re the only ones allowed to joke about our love for chicken — and chicken wings, specifically. (But don’t get it twisted: If you’re a non-Black person and want to be in on the joke, please don’t even try it. I beg you.)
So all political correctness aside, you can probably see how my fellow brown folk find my dislike for wings particularly perplexing. My friends and family have even threatened to revoke my Black card, and when I’m at an event where wings are present, I always prepare myself for the impending jokes that are sure to come my way as I quietly just wish for a slice of pizza to appear instead.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Why put myself through so much pain, shame, and disdain? (And hunger?) Why don’t I just attempt to force myself to like wings, perhaps try as many different types as possible, until I find my match? To put it simply: I just can’t. I cannot think of a single thing more disgusting than eating a wing. Just the thought of biting into a chicken wing makes me nauseous. To me, the entire savage, prehistoric process is like eating a baby bird: When you take a bite, those fragile, tiny bones click against your teeth; sometimes you can even see actual veins in there. And watching someone put an entire wing in their mouth, suck off all the meat, then return those little bare bones onto their plate makes me want to gouge out my eyeballs and run to the nearest corner to vomit. What are we, cavemen?!
Before we part ways, based on my previous conversations with friends and other wing-lovers, I feel it is my duty here to reveal to you one more fact: While I detest chicken wings, I actually do love fried chicken. And based on those prior conversations, I know that you’re going to say next: That makes no sense. I know, right? How can I dig into a succulent fried chicken drumstick and not a chicken wing? Aren’t they the same thing?
They are not. At least, not to me. A drumstick is a substantial, beautiful thing, with enough meat on its bones and salty-crispy coating that I don’t have to feel the bones on my teeth. And it’s so juicy and meaty that if I do sometimes get too close to that nausea-inducing bone or some veins, it’s worth it. A chicken wing, on the other hand, is basically just like a cute little Tweety Bird, right there in my hand, covered in sauce, looking up at me with big eyes and asking how I could so cruelly dig my teeth into her dead carcass. Sorry, y’all, but I just can’t do it. (And yes, I have indeed tried boneless wings and yes, I still can’t. Even though they are allegedly just breast meat, I find myself thinking about the bones that should be in there. Shudder.)
Alright, I get it. I’m clearly a picky eater, and I can admit that. I’ve been big on texture since I was a kid; I also have trouble with bananas, cold cuts, and un-melted cheese. (Yup.) But I’ve made a conscious effort as I’ve gotten older to be a little bit more flexible when it comes to my selectiveness. I’ve even pushed myself to get pretty adventurous, eating grasshopper tacos in Mexico, alligator nuggets in New Orleans, and blood sausage at my Puerto Rican grandmother’s house.
And while I’m happy to report that I’ve found ways around some of my other dislikes (I’ll eat a banana if I slice it first — with my eyes closed, so I don’t have to see those disgusting peel-y strings — and I’ll occasionally let a cold piece of cheese touch my cracker if it’s really thin…) I’ve come to accept that I will just never, ever — ever — learn to like chicken wings.
Maybe that makes me a sociopath, or inexplicably weird, or even a little less Black. But that’s okay. Y’all can keep your boney, grotesque, broken little baby bird wings. Don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here in the corner, eating my fried chicken drumstick. And I’ll be going in.