Ander Christensen looks like he could be the son of the scientist in "Independence Day" - you know, the Area 51 mad genius who admits, "They don't let us out much," in the 1996 blockbuster - and the Lincoln, Neb., resident may have exposed a secret just as mind-blowing as alien visitation: Boneless chicken wings, those staples of sports bars everywhere, are not really made from the wing of a chicken.
During the public comment period of the Lincoln City Council meeting on Aug. 31, Christensen stood at the lectern and dared to speak truth to power.
"We have been casually ignoring a problem that has gotten so out of control that our children are throwing around names and words without even understanding their true meaning, treating things as though they're normal," Christensen said to the assembled lawmakers, including his father, Roy, who has been on the city council since 2013.
"I go into nice family restaurants and I see people throwing this name around and pretending as though everything is just fine. I'm talking about boneless chicken wings. I propose that we as a city remove the . . . " the younger Christensen continued, as laughter erupted in the council chamber.
At this point, Christensen turned to the laughing visitor, stared at the offender for a second and deadpanned, with the timing of a comic, "Excuse me. C'mon!" as if he were being interrupted on a matter of great civic importance.
"That we as a city remove the name 'boneless wings' from our menus and from our hearts," Christensen restarted his petition, placing his hand on his chest in a touch of dry theatricality.
In an phone interview with The Washington Post, Christensen said he's "100 percent serious" about his petition to eliminate the term "boneless chicken wings" from menus, not just in Lincoln but across the country. I asked if there were perhaps a few tongue-in-cheek percentage points in there somewhere.
No, he said. The country is dealing with so many complex and important issues right now, he added, "that we might not ever accomplish them in this generation. It is imperative, especially right now with how everybody is feeling in the global climate, that we have a win. We need to have an issue that we can accomplish. We can accomplish it quickly. This is it."
"This is going to be when we turn around 2020," Christensen said.
During his scripted diatribe to the council - which he said he wrote in five minutes - Christensen outlined three reasons the term "boneless wings" should be banished forever from menus at restaurants, carryouts and the like.
No. 1, he said, lifting an index finger in the air before shaking the digit like a great orator: "Nothing about boneless chicken wings actually comes from the wing of a chicken. We would be disgusted if a butcher was mislabeling their cuts of meats, but then we go around pretending as though the breast of a chicken is its wing."
No. 2, he said, "Boneless chicken wings are just chicken tenders, which are already boneless. I don't go to order boneless tacos. I don't go and order boneless club sandwiches. . . . It's just what's expected."
No. 3, he concluded, "We need to raise our children better. Our children are raised being afraid of having bones attached to their meat. That's where meat comes from. It grows on bones. We need to teach them that the wing of a chicken is from a chicken, and it's delicious."
Christensen then suggested other names for these bogus wings: "We can call them Buffalo-style chicken tenders," he said. "We can call them 'wet tenders.' We can call them 'saucy nugs,' or 'trash.' We can take these steps and show the country that's where we stand and that we understand that we've been living a lie for far too long, and we know it, because we feel it in our bones."
Applause broke out in the chamber when Christensen was done. Even his father chimed in, practically beaming: "I would like to just comment here. For the record, that's my son," Roy Christensen said.
The young Christensen, 27, has had to take time off work as a chemical engineer to deal with the many media requests. He's been interviewed by at least 20 outlets so far, he said, including the New York Times and radio stations in Canada and Australia. He had no idea his council performance, comic or otherwise, would generate so much attention. He's even been approached by private organizations, asking him to join, including the League of Extraordinary Red Heads and the Council of Andrews.
"I told them that my name isn't even Andrew," Christensen said. "They're like, 'It's fine. It's the same Greek base.' "
Papa Christensen didn't know what his son was going to say when he approached the lectern, but the council member said afterward that it was "typical."
"He's a chemical engineer by profession," Roy Christensen told The Post, "but he's a comic at heart."
Christensen, the one who sits on the council, said the legislative body is "taking the matter under advisement." Lawmakers may even issue some sort of statement, given all the publicity, he added.
"My take personally is that this is too big an issue for the small stage of the Lincoln City Council," Roy Christensen said. "Maybe we should just kick it up to the Department of Agriculture. They handle the classification of agriculture and meat products. Maybe that's the best place."
The press office for the US Department of Agriculture did not return a request for comment, probably because they have bigger issues to tackle during a pandemic. But Erik Oosterwijk, president and founder of Fells Point Wholesale Meats in Baltimore, said he cannot sell chicken breasts or thighs - two of the popular cuts often labeled as "boneless chicken wings" - by any other name.
"I could get in trouble because it's mislabeling," Oosterwijk told The Post. "Labeling is very strict, and I'm all in favor of it."
Restaurants are where the confusion creeps in, Oosterwijk said. They're the ones battering breast or thigh meat and calling them "boneless chicken wings." The fake wings have been around for 15 years or more, Oosterwijk said, and their invention is really a matter of economics for restaurants. Chicken wings - the real McCoy - are the most expensive part of the bird these days, Oosterwijk said. Restaurants may have to charge more than consumers are willing to pay for wings to meet food costs. Breast and thigh meat masquerading as wings can be more profitable.
Whatever the reason behind the counterfeit wings, Ander Christensen wants them properly named. He's prepared to take his fight all the way to Washington and the USDA, if necessary.
"I'm not saying that boneless wings are the worst thing on the planet Earth," he said. "If you want to live a half measure of a life and eat those, that's fine. It's up to you. You can keep them on the menu. Just don't sell them as a wing."