Friday, October 15, 2010

Mechanically-Separated Chicken (Is Not Intrinsically Horrifying)

I feel compelled to comment on the "Mechanically-Separated Chicken" (aka "Chicken Nuggets") story that has been making the rounds (Google search here) (weird and/or cool videos here, here, here). It turns out that the situation was a bit sensationalized. Someone did some fact-checking, rather than simply citing other blogs (ahem), and posted their findings here.

Having said that, I would like to share my own thoughts about the "Chicken Nuggets" story.

The parts of the story that disturbed me were the murky provenance of the chicken bits, the scale on which they are processed and fed to na├»ve Americans and others, and the "soaked in ammonia" claim. In my mind, commodity ground meats are the ultimate Meat Of Unknown Origin. Not only do you not know where they're from—you have no idea what they are.

The idea of eating entire animals, including bones, is not horrifying to me per se. If you have ever eaten sardines out of a can, you have eaten bones. Eating broken-down bones, not surprisingly, is an excellent way to get minerals. Much of the virtue of stocks and broths, including old favorites like chicken noodle soup, comes from the contribution of boiled bones. Much of the flavor in clam chowder comes from boiled shells. Gelatin comes from bones and hooves. The great traditions of sausage-making and charcuterie use all sorts of animal parts, including blood. Restaurants from Paris to Beijing, some of them quite fancy, feature brains, tongues, intestines, glands, and lots of other organs.

So, for the record:

As long as animals are of known origin, and inedible bits (gall bladders, scent glands, etc.) are removed, I am in favor of grinding up animals and eating them.


Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist said...

Snopes consistently support Big Food and Big Pharma. Who crowned them "the experts" anyway? While I agree with you that simply grinding up meat is not such a big deal, a simple dismissal from Snopes regarding the horrifying things that happen in food processing plants holds no credibility whatsoever.

Alex Lewin said...

Sarah, I totally agree--

All I meant to say was that the chicken nugget situation is not fundamentally different from, say, the industrial ground beef situation. Which is to say, it's horrible, and I wouldn't eat it myself. But I don't want these stories to lead someone to smugly choose a Big Mac over the evil Chicken McNuggets, thinking they've dodged a bullet, when it's all basically the same.

I also wanted to point out the power of the Internet to hype up stories (regardless of subject).

So, for the record: I DO avoid both industrial burgers and industrial chicken nuggets. The presence or absence of beaks, eyeballs, and combs has nothing to do with it for me...

Jennifer M said...

Jamie Oliver did a similar demonstration on his program last year, when he was trying to get better foods into the schools. He used a food processor to grind up a whole (beheaded, organs removed) chicken, and showed the kids what was left, saying "This is what they make your chicken nuggets out of." I know there's a whole lot more to industrial nuggets than that, but I have to admit sitting there thinking "So? I see nothing wrong with eating that." For exactly the same reasons you list here.

The mechnically -separated chicken (MSC) failed to gross me out for the same reason - there has to be more than just using the whole chicken to the issue to give ME a good reason to avoid it. And Sarah is right, in that there's more to understand - where the chicken came from, how it was fed and treated, and then what happens after they separate it.

But to me, that was a big glaring omission when the MSC picture was running rampant through the internet blogs. A good chance to better educate people was missed.