Eating Fried Chicken

Linh Dinh

‘Eating Fried Chicken’ employs an unexpected experience as a way to explore privilege and injustice. It examines questions of guilt and morality through the lens of food availability.

Linh Dinh

Nationality: American, Vietnamese

Linh Dinh is a versatile Vietnamese-American poet, writer, translator, and literary voice.

He has published works in poetry, fiction, and photography

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Privileged positions can elucidate or obscure deep thought about important issues

Speaker: A man eating fried chicken

Emotions Evoked: Disgust, Enjoyment, Guilt, Pain

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 21st Century

'Eating Fried Chicken' uses a straightforward indulgence as a vehicle to talk about systemic injustices.

‘Eating Fried Chicken’ invites readers to consider what it means to have few or many resources in the world. It examines the nature of personal responsibility and its connection to enjoyment and grief. Linh Dinh expresses a complex mix of emotions using an apparently simple metaphor. The poem offers no easy answers to its questions, ending on a note of pain and uncertainty that the speaker does not or cannot resolve.


‘Eating Fried Chicken’ is an intense poem about the impact of colonialism and privilege on an individual.

The speaker of the poem begins with a confession. He says that sometimes when he is eating fried chicken, he thinks only of his food and not of anything else. Some readers might find this admission strange: what else ought he to be thinking about? The speaker clarifies: he feels that he should remember his family and his country, implying that he no longer lives where he grew up. He should be thinking about the “various blood debts” that a figure he calls his brother owes him.

He goes on to clarify that he is not always evil, implying that forgetting to think of these things for a moment is itself an evil action. Instead, he sometimes refuses “anything / that’s not generally available to mankind,” meaning all food and drink, and even air. He reflects on the world’s suffering and its connection to food, ending with a grim image of inhaling smoke and gunpowder.

Structure and Form

‘Eating Fried Chicken’ is a free verse poem. That means that it does not have a consistent stanza or line length, and the lines do not rhyme or follow a regular meter or rhythm. The poem has four stanzas of varying lengths. The first stanza has seven lines, followed by a tercet or three-line stanza, a single-line stanza, and then a quatrain or four-line stanza.

The fractured structure of the poem echoes the speaker’s uncomfortable and erratic mood. He does not have a strong sense of stability when it comes to his own choices or place in the world, and his poem is the same.

Literary Devices

  • Enjambment: two or more lines of a poem that are not separated by any form of punctuation. Enjambment allows lines of poetry to flow together and builds momentum. The poem’s first three lines, as well as all three lines of the second stanza, are enjambed. These lines echo each other in form and content, creating opposite images.
  • Apostrophe: a speaker addresses someone else who is absent. This poem addresses someone that the speaker calls “brother.” Whether this figure is a literal brother or whether the term is being used more loosely is ambiguous. The relationship between the two figures is strained.
  • Repetition: repeating words or phrases to build consistency, emphasis, and theme in a poem. “Fried chicken” is repeated three times, all in the first stanza. After that, despite the chicken being in the poem’s title, it drops out of the poem altogether, as though the speaker is disgusted and wants to distance himself from it as soon as possible.
  • Metonymy: the use of a related term to refer to something else, like referring to businessmen as “suits.” In the final lines of the poem, the speaker uses metonymy twice. He says that “apples can cause riots,” when he likely means that famine (or an absence of apples and other foods) can cause riots. He also says that “meat brings humiliation,” perhaps referring to his own feelings of guilt about the fried chicken he eats.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

I hate to admit this, brother, but there are times
When I’m eating fried chicken
When I think about nothing else but eating fried chicken,
When I utterly forget about my family, honor and country,
The various blood debts you owe me,
My past humiliations and my future crimes—
Everything, in short, but the crispy skin on my fried chicken.

The speaker opens with an apparently painful confession to someone he refers to as a brother. Sometimes, when he is eating fried chicken, he thinks only of the chicken itself. He implies that this is only an occasional occurrence and that most of the time, he experiences no such lapses. He goes on to describe some of the things he fails to think about, including his “family, honor and country,” his difficult relationship with his brother, and his “past humiliations” and “future crimes.”

This poem remains largely ambiguous throughout the first stanza. The speaker describes his actions with obvious regret and discomfort, but many readers might struggle to see what the problem is. For many people who have grown up with a degree of social privilege, the idea of having to think about personal history and issues while eating fried chicken may seem strange. The speaker’s distress implies that he comes from a background where access to decadent, greasy foods like fried chicken may have been rare or unthinkable. He has a sense now that he needs to continuously remember his past and atone as he eats.

Stanzas Two and Three

But I’m not altogether evil, there are also times
(Which is, when you think about it, absolutely nothing at all.)

In contrast to his earlier confession, the speaker protests that he is “not altogether evil.” Some of the time, instead of eating fried chicken thoughtlessly, he will refuse to eat or drink any food, or indeed make use of any resource, unless it is available to everyone in the world. He acknowledges that there are, in fact, no such resources that are universally available.

The speaker’s approach to his own life is a hyperbolic one. It is, of course, impossible for him to refuse resources not generally available, or else he would soon die. Essentially, the speaker is wrestling with the connection and contrast between the personal and the political. On a worldwide political level, it is both impossible to reject all resources and, furthermore, pointless.

Refusing to eat certain foods will not redistribute those resources to people who need them. The speaker is not actually talking about political impact but rather struggling with personal accountability. He feels that his own actions and his feelings about those actions remain politically salient and are crucial ways for him to act either morally or immorally.

Stanza Four

And no doubt that’s why apples can cause riots,
Will fill one’s lungs with gun powder and smoke.

In the final lines of the poem, the speaker broadens his outlook away from his own life and toward the world at large. He considers the resources that people around the world do or do not have. Food is at the heart of this exploration. A lack of food can cause people to riot while having expensive or excessive food (like fried chicken) is an embarrassing display of wealth. Even air is political: for people living in violent spaces, it may be harder to breathe clear air that is not filled with smoke and gunpowder.

In this poem, the personal and the political are irrevocably intertwined. The speaker feels deep empathy for other people, particularly those who have less than he does. It is very difficult for him to enjoy his own life when he knows that other people are constantly struggling. He creates a striking contrast between eating fried chicken and life in what might be a war zone. Far from being silly or exaggerated, the speaker’s objections and feelings of guilt are rooted in a profound understanding of the world’s injustices and a sense of powerlessness when it comes to making things any better.


What is ‘Eating Fried Chicken’ really about?

‘Eating Fried Chicken’ is a poem about societal privilege and the world’s injustices. It uses the act of eating fried chicken as a way of looking at privilege and self-awareness.

Who is the brother in ‘Eating Fried Chicken’ by Linh Dinh?

The brother is an ambiguous figure in the poem. He may be the speaker’s literal brother, in which case the poem discusses familial strife. He may also be a generalized another figure, possibly belonging to a more privileged culture that has previously harmed the speaker’s home country.

What are the themes of ‘Eating Fried Chicken?’

Some major themes of ‘Eating Fried Chicken’ include the legacies of colonialism, personal privilege and responsibility, and grief for the suffering of humanity. Although the poem is short, it covers a lot of thematic ground.

What is the tone of Linh Dinh’s ‘Eating Fried Chicken?’

‘Eating Fried Chicken’ strikes a balance between humor and anger. Initially, it comes across as somewhat glib, as eating chicken is not usually a serious topic. Later, the speaker’s intense pain becomes more obvious.

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Eating Fried Chicken

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Linh Dinh (poems)

Linh Dinh

Linh Dinh's poetry often deals with social issues in an unusual way. He has a talent for using seemingly glib or inappropriate wording to cut to the heart of an issue. 'Eating Fried Chicken' is a great example of this kind of writing. Dinh contrasts fried chicken, an indulgent, tasty, greasy food, with widespread hunger and lack of resources in many parts of the world.
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21st Century

It is too early in the 21st century to truly know which poems will be remembered. This particular work by Linh Dinh is not currently especially famous or widely read, but it is a good representation of 21st century writing conventions. Many writers are working to address important social issues through their work, sometimes using provocative or challenging language as Linh Dinh does.
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Linh Dinh is Vietnamese-American. He moved to America in 1975 when he was around 12 years old. Much of his poetry is inspired by his own life and cultural experiences. 'Eating Fried Chicken' contrasts an American experience of plenty with an implied Vietnamese experience of lack. That said, 'Eating Fried Chicken' is not necessarily strictly autobiographical.
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The poem can be related to his Vietnamese identity through the theme of cultural assimilation and the experience of being caught between two worlds. It explores the act of eating fried chicken, a popular American food, and reflects on the complexities of embracing and adapting to a new culture while retaining a sense of one's Vietnamese heritage.
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The speaker of this poem struggles with his place in the world. He feels that it is his responsibility to focus on his family, his home country, and his duties in the world. He also sometimes gets caught up in the simple pleasures of life and forgets these things. It is difficult for him to reconcile these two notions.
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The speaker addresses his brother in the poem. It is unclear in the text whether he is referring to a literal brother or using a more general informal term of address for another person or even a group of people. Nonetheless, the relationship between the speaker and the brother is strained, as is the relationship between the speaker and his understanding of his place in the world.
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There is a pervasive feeling throughout the poem that the speaker feels a level of disgust for himself and for the inequalities of the world. The poem plays with disgust in its description of fried chicken: the food sounds delicious, but its pleasures are lessened as the poem continues. The indulgence starts to feel gluttonous and unfair when compared to what many people in the world are lacking.
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The speaker of the poem does not pretend that he does not enjoy the fried chicken he sometimes eats. He enjoys it so much that it can make him forget all the ways in which the world is unfair. However, enjoyment takes a backseat in this piece. There is a pervasive sense that enjoying fried chicken is a selfish, even evil action on the part of the speaker and, implicitly, readers as well.
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The speaker of the poem deals with significant guilt about his own actions and complicity in injustice. His personal history has made him hyper-conscious of the optics of privilege and of his own place in the world. His confession that he sometimes thinks only of the chicken as he eats it is indicative of the weight of his guilt.
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Thinking about the world's injustices, his family history, and his own actions all bring the speaker pain. The piece does not provide easy answers for how to alleviate this pain, if such a thing is even possible. The cognitive dissonance that the speaker's actions and feelings create remains a force to be reckoned with. One potential way to resolve this conflict is to externalize it and communicate it to others, namely the readers.
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The speaker has a sense that he is betraying his family and other people in the world when he enjoys fried chicken without regard for context. Something as simple as a meal becomes a microcosm of a much larger issue of privilege and justice. In some ways, the speaker feels that even by having access to this fried chicken, he has somehow betrayed those who have no such access.
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In the poem, 'Eating Fried Chicken', the act of consuming the food forces the narrator to contemplate their own privilege and, it seems, makes them feel guilty about it. Fried chicken is common in many countries but has a particular association with the United States of America. The poet therefore reflects on the nature of colonialism, imperialism and culture, even as they claim they do not consider these factors while eating chicken.
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Daily Life

Linh Dinh pushes readers to consider their own complicity by situating his poem in an ordinary everyday activity: eating fried chicken. The poem is about the difficulties associated with living an ordinary but privileged life when so many other people have no such opportunity.
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The speaker's relationship with his family, particularly an ambiguous brother figure, features heavily in the poem. It is implied, though not stated outright, that the speaker comes from a family with limited resources but has managed to succeed, possibly by coming to America. His relationship with his family has grown more difficult for him to understand as a result of that success.
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The speaker of 'Eating Fried Chicken' is deeply concerned with justice and fairness. He does not know how to deal with the fact that many people in the world do not have what he has. Sometimes, he tries to manage his feeling of being evil by refusing to eat anything, while other times, he forgets his concerns entirely and just enjoys his food.
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Free Verse

Like many contemporary poems, 'Eating Fried Chicken' is written in free verse. Its stanza lengths vary wildly, from seven lines in the first stanza to just one line in the third. Instead of rhyme or meter, Linh Dinh uses word repetition and thematic continuity to create structure for his poem.
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Sasha Blakeley Poetry Expert
Sasha Blakeley is an experienced poetry expert with a BA in English Literature from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. With a focus on Romanticism, Sasha has extensive knowledge and a passion for English Literature and Poetry. She is a published poet and has written hundreds of high-quality analyses of poems and other literary works.

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