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Where Did the Chicken Nugget Come From?

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After World War II, the poultry world was a hotbed of innovation. Hybridization and new improved chicken-raising techniques helped farmers turn out meatier, tastier birds more efficiently and for less cost. On the processing and retail end, packaging chickens with heads, feet, and entrails already removed made the product more attractive and convenient for consumers. Chicken production was ramping up, but there was little increased demand to meet it. Chicken consumption, market researchers found, had stalled because consumers were suffering from “chicken fatigue.”

Even without their heads staring back at you in the butcher’s case, the vast majority of chickens at the time were still sold whole. Consumers complained that a whole bird was often too much for two or three people, and too small to feed a larger family. What’s more, people said they just didn’t have the time to roast a whole chicken or break it down and cook the parts other ways, especially with more and more women entering the postwar work force. Beef and pork, meanwhile, could be purchased as different cuts, in different amounts, and at different price points, offering variety and flexibility that left chicken trailing as America’s number three meat.

Enter The Chicken Man

A rescuer came in the form of Dr. Robert Baker, who worked at Cornell University as a professor of food science and a liaison to area chicken growers and marketers. Baker was tasked with finding ways to persuade consumers to eat more poultry. Baker was already a local celebrity because of his Cornell Chicken, grilled chicken sauced with a mix of seasonings whisked together with vinegar, oil, and egg. His recipe appeared in university publications and was doled out by the professor each summer at a stand at the New York State Fair.

Part of Baker’s grand chicken plan was developing a market for chickens in the 2.5 to 3-pound range, which would be more manageable in size for consumers and could be sent off to market sooner by farmers looking to increase their turnover. To do that, though, Baker had to come up with something people could do with these “broiler” size chickens, and the popularity of his barbecue recipe suggested that variety was the key.

Baker’s lab, stocked with grinders, blenders, stuffers and a de-boning machine that Baker helped develop, began processing, shaping and preparing chicken in ways that no one had done before. They made chicken sausage, chicken patties, chicken bologna, chicken hot dogs, and scores of other new products. Decades later, the New York Times would dub Baker “something of a chicken Edison.”

McDonald’s often claims credit for inventing the chicken nugget in the late '70s. But the original—which was more a stick shape—and the groundwork that led to the McDonald’s version was born in Baker’s lab a decade earlier. With help from his students, Baker cleared two hurdles standing in the way of a bite-size battered chicken morsel. They kept the processed meat together by drawing out moisture and adding binding agents, and kept the batter attached by freezing the nuggets, coating them and then freezing again. The lab worked up a package and label and tested out their frozen breaded chicken bites in a few local grocery stores. Through the next month and a half, they moved 200 boxes a week.

Baker’s research—everything from the recipe to the box design to a cost estimate for adding a nugget manufacturing line at a typical processing plant—was published in a free Cornell publication, and Baker never patented his chicken-transforming products. With the ideas out in the wind, different versions of chicken sticks, nuggets, patties, dogs and other processed chicken products sprang up all over the country. Over the next half century, chicken fatigue abated and consumption nearly tripled.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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