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I’ve spent much of the last three months obsessing over a single question: can an average human being eat 50 Chicken McNuggets in a single sitting? According to the McDonald’s nutrition website, a 50-piece Chicken McNugget box has 2080 calories before sauces. The nugs have 123 grams of fat and 4,190 milligrams of sodium. Given the stats, it’s obvious a person shouldn’t eat 50 McNuggets at once. But just because they shouldn’t doesn’t mean they can’t.
My fascination with the 50-nugget challenge happened after reconnecting with my buddy Noah. In high school Noah’s go-to drunk meal was 50 nuggets and a small fry. He’d archive the experience with before and after shots on his grainy webcam: a grotesque combination of performance art and still-life photography. Looking back, I wondered whether Noah actually ate that much chicken. The two of us were internet friends from a message board where lying was part of the culture. One healthy person pretended to have cancer. Somebody else claimed to be dating Jennifer Connelly from Labyrinth. During a recent conversation I asked if Noah was honest about the nugs.
“I definitely committed some sort of food crime every weekend. Sometimes twice a weekend,” said Noah. “I was 18, drunk, and attention-starved. I believe the number of nuggets was probably started as a dare at first, but once I knew I could do it… Nuggets are a good way of taking in excessive volumes of food. Afterwards I felt awful. But I was a teen. When you’re a teen feeling awful is standard operating practice.”
Noah’s youthful boasting got me thinking about what it would take to complete the task. A quick Internet search brought me to a soft viral trend from 2015, where people filmed their attempts at eating 50 nuggets. From there I went down a rabbit hole of nugget-eating strategies and best practices for everyday people. Eventually I made the decision to conduct an informal study among my friends, putting them through the challenge and documenting the results. Below is that documentation.
Robin Black makes his living analyzing mixed martial arts. Black offers his audience meticulous fight breakdowns, looking at step-by-step actions and reactions leading to victory in physical combat. Black brought the same intense analytical nature to eating nugs.
“I’m not looking at this as an enjoyable experience,” said Black. “I’m eating the nuggets with precision and strategy. What is the minimal effort I need to apply in order to achieve my goal? What are the smaller actions I must undertake to ensure maximum chicken consumption?”
Black’s strategy for the challenge was a two-pronged attack. First, he would attempt to eat the majority of nugs within the first 15 minutes while chewing as little as possible. Second, Black would dip the nuggets into water to aid swallowing the chicken.
“It takes approximately 15 minutes for the body to recognize it’s full,” said Black. “Chewing more, in addition to adding time, reduces a person’s appetite. By putting the nuggets in water I’m utilizing the same tactics as speed-eating greats like Takeru Kobayashi.”
On a Sunday during lunch time Robin Black and I ordered 50 McNuggets, two orange Fantas, and a water cup for dipping. At the counter a friendly employee asked if we were feeding our family that afternoon.
“No,” said Black. “We are on a mission.”
The confused employee rang in the order as we retreated to a back booth. The nugs spread out before us in packs of 10, we began to realize that 50 McNuggets is a fucking lot of nuggets. The packaging took up the majority of our tiny table. I set the timer and Black took a deep breath. He picked a nugget from the box and dipped it into the water.
Though the first 10 nuggets went down easy, the fight analyst quickly learned the limitations of his strategy. Dipping the nuggets in water, no sauce added, made them absolutely miserable to eat. He was physically prepared for the challenge, but Black hadn’t considered the emotional component of downing the soggy, breaded morsels again and again. By nugget number 20 he had mostly abandoned his water dipping in favour of hot mustard. Black also began to lash out.
“These aren’t even food,” Black snapped. “Like...why would you make me do this? This is terrible. It’s not even going to make a good article.”
I reminded Black that he could stop. It was OK to stop. In return he angrily splashed nugget 30 into his dipping water—now dyed yellow from the chicken—and aggressively shoved it into his mouth. At the 40-minute mark he had consumed 38 nuggets. After the bell Black ate two more.
“I would have finished but you tried to stop me,” he said. I did not believe him but admired the bravado.
Result: 38/50 (plus two after the time limit)
While Black attempted a scientific approach to the nugget challenge, Fatuma Adar’s game plan was much simpler. She planned to get really high. When I asked if Adar had any additional tactics, she was offended.
“You think a stoned Black girl can’t eat 50 McNuggets?” she said.
Leading up to Adar’s nug day she talked a lot of shit, expressing her certainty about finishing the meal through the clever use of gifs and occasional lewd hand gestures. Because Adar didn’t want to be stoned around strangers, we ordered 50 nuggets and a Coke from the closest McDonald’s to my apartment and ate inside my shame-free space. For the first 15 nuggets everything was a dream.
“McDonald’s is a treat,” said Adar. “My parents are immigrants and we were hella broke. It was only when we were really, really, good we’d get to have McNuggets and act Canadian. They may be the perfect food.”
After the heartfelt confession, Adar opened up a packet of sweet and sour sauce and began riffing on the nature of time. She openly wondered about what happens when we die, then laughed and ate more chicken. She became a fast-food-fuelled dadaist poet. Adar held out a nugget like Hamlet holding a skull. To eat or not to eat. At the 20-minute mark she was more than halfway done, but by nugget 30 there was a wall.
“I feel stoned,” said Adar. I reminded her that she had recently smoked a joint. “No...I’m sort of dizzy and is everything—like—louder all of the sudden? I feel stoned on nugs.”
After that Adar’s nug consumption instantly changed. Her once quick pace broke to a slow crawl. Her happy chatter stunted, her energetic words replaced by a constant grind of chewing and the sad squish of chicken into sauce packets. At the 32-minute mark Adar looked at the eight remaining and made a difficult decision. She decided she was finished.
“You know Icarus? I’m Icarus,” said Adar.
Elizabeth Staples earnestly believed that she could consume 50 nuggets. She had previously finished a 30-pack during a drunken night out. Another 20 pieces of chicken in one sitting didn’t seem all that bad. Staples prepared for her nugget challenge by skipping lunch. Unlike Adar’s brazen boasting, she held herself with a quiet confidence. In line at McDonald’s I asked Staples if she had any reservations about the challenge.
“I feel like I’m going to be able to do it,” said Staples. “I believe in myself.”
Elizabeth put in an amazing effort, finishing the first 30 nuggets in 16 minutes. During that time Staples spoke casually about her work as a director and the myriad of box-office side hustles she’s undertaken to pursue her art career. The fact that she was rapidly eating chicken was hardly noticeable. Save for the occasional burp of release it was like any other time we’d hung out. With 30 nuggets quickly destroyed Staples seemed destined to complete the challenge. I was stoked to watch someone finish.
But between nugget 35 and nugget 37 things took a nasty turn. Staples just kind of...stopped. She held a nugget in her hand and stared into the difference. After a little while I asked if she was okay.
“Yeah. No. I mean...sure,” said Staples. “I just feel strange.”
Staples tried to chew the side of her nugget, taking little nibbles and pulling at the breading. She looked unwell. I reminded my friend she could quit at any time. Staples shook her head, put the nugget to her face, and whispered I love you before popping it into her mouth. The drastic shifts in Staples demeanour coupled with the fact that she was now talking to her food had me worried. Taking more chicken from the box she held her stomach.
“The nugget didn’t love me back,” she said.
Staples stopped at nugget 38. To be honest I was glad. Later when I text Liz she told me she hadn’t felt right in three days.
I hadn’t intended on taking the 50 nugget challenge. After watching my friends attempts I was fully aware of just how much chicken 50 nuggets actually was. When I’ve undergone self-imposed eating challenges in the past they’ve inevitably ended with projectile vomit and sadness. But midway through writing up my friends results I felt like an imposter. To properly understand the experience I felt like I needed to undergo it myself. Nug lest ye be nugged, you know?
My strategy was to eat the nuggets directly after an intense, empty-stomach, workout. That’s the time I feel the most hunger. But in my heart I knew the challenge didn’t have much to do with hunger at all. I wasn’t eating to feel satiated. I was eating to prove a point.
I brought along my friend Erica to McDonald’s for moral support and documentation purposes and approached the counter with reservation. I ordered 50 nuggets and a diet soda. Erica got a six-nugget Happy Meal. We found a tiny uncleaned table, wiped it down with a napkin, and got to work.
After the first eight nuggets I wanted to give up. The pieces were warm and crispy, but any pleasure I got from the food was nerfed by the looming threat of the remaining nugs. When I told Erica I was thinking about stopping, she slammed her first down on the table and told me we weren’t at Quit-Donald’s. The comment barely made sense but motivated me nonetheless.
By nugget 17 I was undeniably full. My stomach had started to ache. The stomachache wasn’t surprising. What did surprise me was the pain in my fingers. The salt from the food had gotten underneath my nails, leaving a throbbing sensation that felt like bee stings. Under normal circumstances I would have called it there, but these weren’t normal circumstances.
Nugget 33 had me worried. It was where the other participants started to experience problems and I could understand why. My head started to spin and there was sweat on my brow. When I popped the nugget into my mouth, I felt a terrible sensation. It wasn’t enough volume for vomit, but I did heave. Chicken spittle sat at the back of my throat. I took a sip of Diet Coke and washed the spittle down and with the nugget.
Miraculously, by the 29-minute mark I had eaten 40 pieces of chicken. I felt like shit, for sure, but I’d achieved so much more than I assumed I could. Fifty seemed possible. I started to giggle about the prospect. The giggling turned into a full-on laughing fit. Erica looked at me like I’d gone crazy. Seeing her reaction I wondered if maybe I had.
After 49 nugs I sat staring at the final piece. It was the longest pause I had taken while eating the nuggets. The reflection was a mistake. By that point, even with the aid of sauces, the chicken had stopped tasting like food. The texture felt rigged in my mouth. Like my fingers, it was also sore. There was one more nugget and I didn’t think I had it in me. I looked up at Erica who encouraged me to finish. I put my face in my hands and breathed heavy. Things went on like that for a long time.
Approaching the 40-minute mark my friend came up with a plan. In a master move of reverse psychology she took one of her nuggets from the Happy Meal and put it in my box. One nug seemed impossible but two, for whatever reason, was fine. I ate both and completed the challenge at the 37-minute mark. I had done it. Fifty-one. If only for a moment I was the King of Nuggets. I felt extremely proud of myself then instantly shameful.
In the week after I completed the task my sweat stank heavily of nuggets. I’m not sure what that is supposed to mean.
Graham Isador is on Instagram.