My conflicted relationship with fried chicken

3 minute read

Dr Maria Yang on what happens to your inner clinician when your own family gets very sick


They are clear memories from my youth: After riding our bikes along the beach on warm summer mornings, my parents frequently picked up a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken

After we settled into our seats at the kitchen table, I always got the drumsticks and biscuits. My parents both preferred dark meat. My mom would take the cole slaw. My dad enjoyed the mashed potatoes and gravy. Chilled watermelon or papaya completed the meal.

A pot of tea was now on that same kitchen table. The wedding band was loose on my mom’s finger.

“You know why I got cancer?” she asked me in Chinese. Before I could say anything, she replied in English, “I ate too much Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

“No,” I blurted out.

“There’s too much grease in it,” she continued.

“No,” I repeated, now both amused and disturbed that she was attributing her lung cancer to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“If I didn’t eat so much Kentucky Fried Chicken, I probably wouldn’t have gotten cancer.”


I repeated what the oncologist had told us: It was probably genetics. She was a relatively young, non-smoking, Asian female. Something about all that put her at higher risk of developing non-small cell lung cancer. The Kentucky Fried Chicken had nothing to do with it.

She looked away and sighed. Even though I had a medical degree, I was still her daughter and my statement was a child’s opinion.

“I’m not hungry, but I should eat something,” I said, wiping the snot from my nose with my arm. Less than an hour had passed since I had learned that my mom had died.

When we got home, we pulled the paper containers from the plastic bag and put them on the kitchen table. Tears were trailing down my cheeks and my chest still hurt, but I started laughing as I bit into the fried chicken from Ezell’s.

“I get a senior citizen’s discount,” my dad said, smiling. He put the red tray down between us and opened the red and white box.

“I’m glad,” I replied, smiling back at him. He reflexively gave me the drumstick and the biscuit. I handed him the mashed potatoes and gravy.

“Mmm,” he said between bites. “Kentucky Fried Chicken is good.”

“Mm hm,” I mumbled in agreement while chewing. I’m going to enjoy this fried chicken and cancer can go f-ck off.

Dr Maria Yang is a US psychiatrist who blogs at

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