Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chicken Nuggets: The Other Pink Meat

By Danelle Frisbie

Michael Kindt, in his fun-loving manner, introduced and shocked numerous people around the globe to the pink messy goo pictured above. He writes:
Say hello to mechanically separated chicken.

It’s what fast-food chicken is made from—things like chicken nuggets and patties, as well as the processed frozen chicken in the stores.

Basically, the entire chicken is smashed and pressed through a sieve—bones, eyes, guts, and all. It comes out looking like this.

There’s more: because it’s crawling with bacteria, it will be washed with ammonia, soaked in it, actually. Then, because it tastes gross, it will be reflavored artificially. And because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial color.

But, hey, at least it tastes good, right?

High five America!
To present this news fairly, we must note that the infamous McDonald's McNuggets are no longer made from mechanically separated poultry as defined by the USDA. A few other fast food chains have also done away with mechanically separated meats for most of their items (KFC, for example, uses whole chicken for all but their 'chicken poppers'). In general, however, the majority of other mass-produced chicken nuggets, hotdogs, and meat patties (including frozen dinners and other processed meats you buy in the frozen aisle of the grocery store) are made from mechanically separated chicken/turkey/pork. In general, if the food does not need to maintain its shape, it is cheaper to make from mechanically separated meat. Foods made with mechanically separated poultry animals are also now required to be labeled as containing "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" in their ingredients lists.

While "mechanically separated meat" may apply to several animals slaughtered in this fashion - turkey, chicken and pork - concerns over 
bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) have led to regulations that ban the use of mechanically separated beef cattle since 2004. The USDA states:
Due to FSIS regulations enacted in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef is considered inedible and is prohibited for use as human food. It is not permitted in hot dogs or any other processed product.
Mechanically separated meat also does not actually contain the "bones and all." While it is all put through the same high pressured sieve, the purpose of the process is to force all the tissue matter from the bone - leaving nothing to waste. This was started in the 1960s when machines were first developed that were capable of doing so. Prior to that time, a lot of meat tissue went to waste because manufacturers couldn't get the last pieces of flesh from the bones of animals (it was done by hand).

Anhydrous ammonia is routinely used in packing plants to refrigerate the meat, and it has been known to leak into the meat product. Ammonium hydroxide is also often used as an antibacterial agent when meat is processed. But (again, to be precise) processed meat is not deliberately 'soaked' in ammonia.

Today, there are a number of tasty meat-free, soy-free options for nuggets available at your local whole foods store or in the health section of your local grocery. My personal favorite is the 
Southwestern Chik'n Wings from Quorn - they are delicious! Learn more about Quorn's use of microprotein (like the protein in mushrooms) here and see all their scrumptious alternative selections if you are shopping for some 'fast food' nuggets.

We also have the option to purchase whole, fresh, 'cruelty-free' meats (although I still have some hesitation as to whether such a thing exists) from our local farmers or whole foods suppliers. Cut them into small pieces, and bread them yourself with a variety of healthy coatings. 
See one option for home made nugget breading here.

As Jamie Oliver recently reminded us in his "
Food Revolution" there are many important reasons to ditch the pink bloody animal mush and eat real food. [See video below for Oliver's 'chicken nugget' experiment.] To learn more about where your food comes from and explore options for better, more responsible, eating for our future, see any of these excellent sources:

Fast Food Nation

The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Food Inc.: A Participant Guide

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight and Saving the Planet

Diet for a Dead Planet

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

Stuffed and Starved: The Battle for the World's Food System

The Future of Food


Food Inc. ~ Movie Website

Fast Food Nation

Corn Kings ~ Movie Website 

The Cove ~ Movie Website

Super Size Me

The End of the Line Movie Website

Food Matters ~ Movie Website

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