Do Most People Even Know What They're Eating?
January 23, 2004 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Do Most People Even Know What They're Eating? Pork is served as veal; tilapia as red snapper and who knows what goes into sausages and other processed meat and fish products? You don't have to be an observant Jew or Muslim to be worried. How many years have those chicken pieces been frozen? How much pork and beef have been added to them? As food is increasingly disguised (fish fingers, chicken nuggets, beefburgers) to hide its origins, feeding on hypocritical popular revulsion with animals' existence, death - and carcasses! - aren't consumers setting themselves up for an ever greater measure of food fraud? That is, if they still care. (And no, it's not just an American phenomenon.) [Via The Daily Gullet. ]
posted by MiguelCardoso (49 comments total)
There's a typically Korean dish (ie throw a bunch of stuff in a stoneware pot with some water and heaps of red pepper paste and garlic and boiled furiously (not that I'm averse to this, mind you)) called, phonetically, 'boo-dae jjiggae'. Although Koreans don't tend to like to talk about this too much, the name means 'base stew' and comes out of the deeply poor decades following the Korean war, when food was scrounged from the garbage heaps outside American bases and thrown into the pot with whatever else could be found. It included, and includes, such un-Korean things as chunks of meat patties and hotdogs and stuff. It's actually quite retro-popular these days, particularly when drinking.

With clockwork regularity, some shik-tang ajummah ('cheap restaurant auntie', more or less) will be exposed and excoriated on the TV news (to much backward-looking handwringing) because she adheres to the old ways a little too closely in sourcing her ingredients, and someone has found meat patties with toothy semicircular bites taken out, for example.


Not precisely on topic, maybe, sorry. Closer to topic is that it always amazes me how many people think that when they order scallops, they're actually getting them, most of the time. I think it's probably very rare to actually get real scallops these days, at least in the developed world.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:15 PM on January 23, 2004

I eat reindeer and horse, not pork, no birds, no cow and no lamb. I'll Make an exceptions for any 'sea roaches' ie; shellfish. I don't eat farmed salmon. Anything born in a small box, breed in a small box and eventually fattened in that small box really turns me off. Still a meat eater, obviously. :/ I tied doing the whole serious vegan thing, I just can't seem to give up eggs and butter.
posted by dabitch at 8:23 PM on January 23, 2004

eh, bred. Anyone able to help with a butter alternative while we're at it? :)
posted by dabitch at 8:25 PM on January 23, 2004

(yikes, pork served as veal?)
posted by dabitch at 8:28 PM on January 23, 2004

Who the heck puts peanuts in falafel? Almost killed a friend who was allergic.
posted by kablam at 8:35 PM on January 23, 2004

soylent green is PEOPLE!!!

Experience has taught me that if you raise your own food, you know what you're putting in your mouth, (though at times that's small comfort). And this may sound kinda snobbish of me, but if you can't taste the difference between pork and veal, than you haven't really good samples of either one.
posted by Wulfgar! at 8:41 PM on January 23, 2004

Please insert "had" wherever your mind thinks appropriate in that last sentence.
posted by Wulfgar! at 8:42 PM on January 23, 2004

What's wrong with butter? Butter makes everything taste better.
posted by bshort at 8:45 PM on January 23, 2004

it always amazes me how many people think that when they order scallops, they're actually getting them, most of the time. I think it's probably very rare to actually get real scallops these days, at least in the developed world.

Stav: In the Latin countries (and enlightened Britain) where your travels have left their indelible mark, scallops are unfakeable as they're served in the shell, with the delicious coral. In fact, you wouldn't eat them if you weren't sure they were alive before they were ( very briefly) cooked. Best of all: grilled in the shell for, oh, 6o seconds max, with a dash of olive oil (or butter) and lemon juice.

In Nova Scotia, where I spent two extended visits, I was amazed that scallops, despite their abundance and quality (generally thawed, though undeniably real) were sold by the pound without the shells (or the corals): just the cylindrical main bodies/muscles. This is what I meant by food disguise.

Same in non-sophisticated U.S. restaurants: though, shockingly, also in Grand Central's Oyster Bar in Manhattan, where you'd think, given the legendary selection of fresh oysters, customers were used to shells.

I've never heard of fake scallops - I supposed they're made of that yucky rolled up, pressed "surimi" (originally fish, btw) which is dyed and processed to look like crab legs or lobster meat or whatever.

How they could ever be confused, taste-wise, is beyond me...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:54 PM on January 23, 2004

Strange mental wandering ... in Peter Benchley's Jaws, the arrogant marine biologist (who gets et all up by the fish later in the book) is in a restaurant, and makes the mental observation that the scallops are actually cod cut with a cookie cutter. I have no flippin' idea why I remember that.
posted by Wulfgar! at 9:01 PM on January 23, 2004

Depending on what you're doing with the butter, you can replace it with either margerine, olive oil or a combination of both. Only thing it doesn't quite get right is fried mushrooms.

It should be noted that I'm not that big on butter anyway, so perhaps the more butter-loving people will be revulsed by my all-vegetable-fats cooking.
posted by fvw at 9:07 PM on January 23, 2004

Miguel: Here in Atlantic Canada fish, especially a lot of shellfish, was always traditionally considered a poor family's staple. My aunt tells the story of how her family would always bury lobster shells in the backyard so no one would know that that's what they've been eating. (All the more well off kids got to eat bologna, a.k.a. Newfie steak</small. This might go a long way to explaining the lack of care we put into preparing and presenting the stuff, even if it has become a little more respectable lately.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:08 PM on January 23, 2004

tastes better.
posted by angry modem at 9:45 PM on January 23, 2004

Come to New Zealand, stav. If you still feel dubious, we can go diving and you can get your own scallops.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:42 PM on January 23, 2004

Before skate wing was a popular fish entree in NYC, I remember certain restaurants using a cookie cutter on skate wings to make scallops. The taste is much closer to scallop than I would imagine cod to be.
Here in Japan, scallops come with the coral, too - so no worries for me. As for what's really in my beef curry? That's not so clear...
posted by bashos_frog at 11:17 PM on January 23, 2004

Now that I think about it, when I was in the UK last the local ice cream manufacturers were up in arms: European regulations were about to force them to only use dairy fats in ice cream. Because damnit, it's an Englishman's right to have chicken fat in his ice cream, whether he knows it or not.

It's not just the mislabelling, folks. You'd be amazed what they're allowed to do without telling you.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:35 PM on January 23, 2004

Because damnit, it's an Englishman's right to have chicken fat in his ice cream, whether he knows it or not.

That's a bit harsh: the usual bulking fat in crappy Mr Whippy ice cream is 'vegetable oil', i.e. the squeezings of the nasty yellow oilseed rape which gets huge EU subsidies and is responsible for keeping the makers of Beconase in booming business. Vegetable oil emulsifies better (like butter in a cake), allowing ice cream vans to whisk more air into their nasty sugary fake swirly product. Topped off with a Flake for added nutrition.

Chicken fat goes into pork sausages, dontcha know? And kebabs. Along with stray dog.

There was the time that the EU was going to stop allowing British Twixes and Mars bars and so on to be labelled as 'chocolate' because they replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil. (The Belgians, I'm sure, were behind that. Out of sheer disgust.) It's a pity that the British definition won the day. 'Family Milk Chocolate'? What. The. Fuck?

Anyway, Smithfield Market is as close as you'll get in the metropolis to picking out your own cow or pig for slaughter. Just don't ever eat 'scampi' served as pub grub. Or pub grub in general.
posted by riviera at 11:56 PM on January 23, 2004

Avoid the Vietnamese chicken.
posted by homunculus at 12:00 AM on January 24, 2004

Err, it's not like anyone eats a Mr Whippy for it's nutritional value.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:00 AM on January 24, 2004

chickens have fingers?
posted by billybobtoo at 4:06 AM on January 24, 2004

Man, riviera, on my many trips to the UK getting one of those ice creams was a big treat. I suppose the vegetable oil is what makes them so tasty! MMMMMM! It only makes sense the ice cream would be fake, I mean, nothing about the taste of a flake screams "I'm made of pure chocolate". It says "I'm a factory made flakey sugar stick done in a chocolate style".

While it's clearly misrepresentation to sell food as being one type, yet being another, religion shouldn't enter into it. It's simple misrepresentation, and that alone should be enough to close a restaurant.
posted by shepd at 4:17 AM on January 24, 2004

You can pry my Krusty partially gelatinated non-dairy gum based beverage from my cold, dead, chubby fingers.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:26 AM on January 24, 2004

I was eating some bad spumoni ice cream last summer, idly gazing at the ingredient list on the label, when I noticed that they had substituted rutabaga for the glaceed fruit. Grrrrr.
posted by stonerose at 4:55 AM on January 24, 2004

So should the restaurant be closed by government regulation, or by the invisible hand of market forces, shepd? ;) I guess in the later case, the misrepresentation is the problem. If consumers don't know what's in the food, how can they choose?

Meanwhile, I was shocked to learn that the great Australian meat pie is required to contain only 25% meat, and that producers don't have to tell you if the "meat" is offal.
posted by Jimbob at 5:31 AM on January 24, 2004

I don't mind eating sausage because Dad grew up on a farm and I'm pretty prosaic about that kind of stuff - it's a meat by-product and, knowing that, I'm pretty comfortable with the concept. But I wish a local butcher could carry ranched venison, since I don't get to go hunting now that I'm married to a lady with a strong aversion to the idea of my shooting Bambi. Also, I'd really like to try a buffalo steak sometime.

I also like the Church of Euthanasia's concept, at least for its honesty and ecological economy: If you insist on eating animal flesh, restrict your diet to fellow humans.
posted by alumshubby at 6:11 AM on January 24, 2004

I'm moving into the John Stossel school of philosophy, that is: people worry way too much about stuff that doesn't matter. When you're starving, it's amazing how concepts like kosher and vegan get pushed aside. Most odd dishes, as pointed out, come from man's desire not to starve, not out of some desire to be cruel to animals.
posted by girard31 at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2004

girard31, what about people's desire for authenticity, and the erosion of respect for authenticity because of the drive for profit? The dairy I spoke of earlier didn't replace fruit with rutabaga because they lacked access to the real thing: they took a recipe with its own history, and crapped on that history in order to satisfy their greed. They consciously took technology and used it to make a crude facsimile of something that I grew up with. It's a small example, but I found it poignant and disturbing - even as someone who rejects dietary orthodoxy in any form.
posted by stonerose at 7:18 AM on January 24, 2004

producers don't have to tell you if the "meat" is offal

Um, the reason that they don't have to tell you is that every sensible person already knows. It's a pie, what do you think it's full of, rib fillet?
posted by backOfYourMind at 7:18 AM on January 24, 2004

Itis a decent enough article, but this paragraph made my eyes cross :

"Glickman said that lots of people think Jews don't eat pork because of some outdated fear of trichinosis, but that's not true. Biblical scholars more accurately describe the avoidance of pork by Jews as a deep-seated religious taboo."

I was also interested in the difference in tone between the Rabbi and the Imam, in talking about the Veal-Pork scam.

I can't say what to make of it though. My wife's incontinent 17 year old Doberman-Shepherd was shuffling about and randomly incontinenting so much in the night, I only got about 1/2 hour's sleep and my head's swimming.


FatTalk - A brief bit about the pitfalls and benefits of different fats and oils :

Oils and fats are lipids (see below). Oils are fats which do not congeal at room temperatures, and any oils (AKA fats, greases, or lards) which congeal at room temperature - defined as 20 degrees celsius, though some contend that this in an abitrary and unproductive distinction tend to be suspect, from a health benefit perspective. Here is a little academic primer on Lipids. Animal lipids tend to congeal at 20 degrees celsius and so they are typically called fats, while vegetable lipids do not tend to congeal at 20 degrees celsius and so they are usually called oils. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, as explained in the primer on lipids above, is an especially important distinction.

Note - there is considerable controversy currently raging over the relationship and interrelationships between the consumption of various fats and oils and levels of blood cholesterol.

[ "eh, bred. Anyone able to help with a butter alternative while we're at it? :)
posted by dabitch at 8:25 PM PST on January 23 "

"What's wrong with butter? Butter makes everything taste better.
posted by bshort at 8:45 PM PST on January 23
" ]

- It's been shown that our brains release endorphins in response to our eating of fats. But - butter is bad for the same reason animal fats tend to be bad. Animal fats are long, messy molecules, "long chain" molecules which break down slowly, while wreaking a fair amount of havoc in the process because of the free radicals which tend to be created in the process of breaking them down.

Plant saturated fats tend to be, it has recently been shown, far healthier than saturated animal fats (unless, of course, they have been hydrogenated - see below) for the fact that the fat molecules of coconut oil, palm oil, and so on are much shorter chain fats than animal fats. This tends to make them healthier. Further, coconut oil breaks down into Caprylic Acid - which has been shown in, medical studies, to aid in controlling Candida Albicans overgrowths.

Strangely ( or not ), coconut oil tends to effect men and women quite differently - in one recent study, it was shown that coconut oil did not elevate male cholesterol levels at all, nor did it's consumption seem to lead to weight gain among those males. Coconut oils did not elevate female cholesterol levels either, but did tend to make the females gain weight.

Transfats (hydrogenated fats or oil) - however - are far, far worse than butter and saturated plant fats. Our bodies aren't equipped to break them down - we haven't yet evolved any mechanism to deal with these altered fats - and so they just tend to float around ( as I understand it, but I'm not a specialist in this one ) through our bloodstreams, wreaking considerable havoc.

Perhaps the worst fats of all are the fats altered by high heat - and partly oxidized in the process ; and the worst of this type of altered fat is barbecued (cooked with high heat) animal fat.

Burning animal fat releases an especially potent class of carcinogens called PAH's (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)

The PAH's are what make barbecued meat so delicious, I suppose - and I'd be willling to bet $10 that it will be shown (if it has not been already) that humans have an instinctual love of charred meat. It's simple - the charring kills off parasites and kills potentially lethal bacteria. These threats posed a much more immediate threat in our recent evolutionary past but now tend to be not nearly as significant as health threats ; so the longer term mortality risks associated with PAH's have come to the fore.

I had a good friend who was a quintessentially stingy yankee - he raised his own meat (mutton and goose) and bought high quality beef from local farmers. And he only ate small amounts of this meat each day, more as a garnish than anything else. BUT.......when he was finished frying his meat scraps, he would drain the leftover fat into a cup that he kept by his stove. He would then reuse this leftover grease when he next cooked. He never actually emptied the grease cup - so there would always tend to be a residue of grease in it which was weeks old, at least. Full of PAH's, unbeknownst to him. I only learned about the PAH's later.

He died of a rare, untreatable form of stomach cancer.

The best fats of all tend to be unsaturated plant oils - olive, canola, sesame, and so on. These oils are highly resistant to oxidation - they end to be high in antioxident compounds.

(Oxidative processes - in the wrong place and time within our bodies - really constitute the main destructive process which drives the ageing process.)

Our bodies need a certain amount of saturated fats, especially for the maintenance of our fatty brains (largely made from cholesterol) and the maintenance of our nerve structure (for the myelin sheathing, I seem to recall, but this could be incorrect).

Omega 3 fatty acids are especially important for our brains. Here is a Google search for more info on these crucial fats.

Omega 6 fatty acids are bad, 'mkay?

"The easiest way to characterize the essence of recent scientific studies is to think of Omega 3 fatty acid as the "good oil" and Omega 6 fatty acid as the "bad oil." Omega 3 is plentiful in cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring, yellow tail) and flax seed oil. Lesser amounts are present in soy and canola oils and in wheat germ. Omega 6 is the predominant fatty acid in polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil. To advance down the road to better health, imprint these lists in your memory, eat fish twice a week and reduce your intake of bad oils. These relatively minor lifestyle changes appear to be reasonably reliable life extenders.

In a study involving patients with breast cancer at the UCLA School of Medicine (reported in the August, 1997, Journal of the National Cancer Institute), corn and safflower oils were found to favor the growth of mammary tumors, while Omega 3 fish oils inhibited mammary tumor growth..."

Other foods are high in Omega 3's as well - walnuts, for example, are especially high. Don't let those Omega 3's go rancid ( oxidation ) ! - Store them in the fridge.

Eating too little fat can be bad for one's health and a lack of Omega 3's has been associated with childhood behavioral problems.

Note : there are now available commercial fat/oil blends (some of which have been concocted by cardiologists - such as "SmartBalance" - some not, such as "Earthbalance" ) to contain a more optimal balance of saturated and unsaturated fats (than would be found in butter), from various sources and which contain the Omega 3 fatty acids but are extremely low in "bad" fats. These do not behave quite like butter in a fry pan, I can report. They work fine on toast and bagels though.


OK. Enough with the FatTalk. I just emitted this FatTalk off the top of my head - and so there may be occaisonal factual inaccuracies. But overall my facts are, I'm fairly confident, substantially correct.

And - Metafilter being the iconoclastic, doubting, questioning venue that it is, I'm confident that no one will simply take my word for it.

Disclaimer : I am NOT a licensed health care provider, so take my "FatTalk" with a lump of fat (err....a grain of salt, that is). And who am I ? To quote Harvey Pekar - "Lady, I'm just some kid from the neighborhood."

One last point - the spellcheck function of my browser has inexplicably stopped working. Sorry for any typos.
posted by troutfishing at 7:21 AM on January 24, 2004

On the flip side of this phenomenon, I once bought a microwave 'pork burger' (I was on the dole and hungry, alright?).
After heating the thing it tasted even wierder than I expected, so I had a look at the package -

Pork pattie: 100% Soy beans

GM soy no doubt, but I ate the rest...
posted by backOfYourMind at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2004

My boyfriend and I were discussing this very thing the other day. I work at an upscale bistro that has changing specials every day. One day this week our special was an open-faced sausage sandwich. Our chef informed us that the sausage was both pork and kangaroo. "You don't have to tell them it is kangaroo, though," he said.

So I didn't. I am a new server at this establishment, and was, in fact, still in training. I didn't want to ruffle any feathers.

The good news is no one ordered that sandwich from me. But if they had I doubt I would have told them what kind of sausage it was unless they asked. I would never knowingly deceive anyone, but if you are gonna order sausage all willy-nilly, then you sort of get what's coming to you, so to speak. Sausage never means pork specifically, though that is often what it is. If you don't care enough to ask, then why should anyone care enough to tell you?

Now that I have read the above article, though, I feel sort of differently. While I don't know of any 'roo-lovin' religion that forbids the eating of kangaroo, perhaps it best to inform people up front, just in case.
posted by brittney at 7:23 AM on January 24, 2004

Also - re : a butter alternative - I like to drizzle olive oil on food instead of using butter. Suffused with garlic ( one key, powerful dietary antioxidant ) and/or flavored with herbs, it is quite delicious once you get used to it. The consumption of olive oil has been shown to reduce "bad" (low density, or "LDL") cholesterol levels associated with increased coronary heart disesase. Further, HDL is good : "low HDL cholesterol level was associated with a 2.0-fold higher risk of fatal cardiovascular disease" I'm not sure if olive oil reduces Triglycerides or not. Triglycerides are generally considered to be quite bad, 'mkay?. / FatTalk
posted by troutfishing at 7:48 AM on January 24, 2004

Go read The Jungle.
"For it was the custom, as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be used for anything else, either to can it or else to chop it up into sausage."
They've been disguising meat since the Industrial Revolution.
posted by krazykity16 at 8:27 AM on January 24, 2004

They've been disguising meat since the Industrial Revolution.

you madam, have made my day.
posted by clavdivs at 8:47 AM on January 24, 2004

There was a huge lawsuit against McDonalds, recently settled, brought by Hindus after beef tallow was found to be in their fries (posted here).

Basically, if you eat at a restaurant you might as well lick the floor on the way out. Not to be cynical or anything.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:03 AM on January 24, 2004

...if you eat at a restaurant you might as well lick the floor on the way out.

From "Fast Food Nation"...
A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat. According to Gerba, "You'd be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink."
posted by at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2004

One day this week our special was an open-faced sausage sandwich. Our chef informed us that the sausage was both pork and kangaroo. "You don't have to tell them it is kangaroo, though," he said.

I've eaten real unadulterated kangaroo. On a stick. It's tastier than pork quite frankly.

Sadly it wasn't served in a pita. That would be fuckin' funny.
posted by jonmc at 10:23 AM on January 24, 2004

Nothing whatsoever wrong with eating kangaroo, folks but that's just me. I've stopped eating beef and eat kangaroo instead, because own here it's twice as tasty and 1/3 the cost. Especially good in burgers and curries.

And, backofyourmind, I guess my point was that you don't know what kind of offal. I know a steak-and-kidney pie has, well, kidney in it. But my standard meat pie often has these strange spirally-shaped gristle bits in it, and I'd really like to know what part of the animal they are, thanks.
posted by Jimbob at 11:23 AM on January 24, 2004

Kangaroo should be fine. Can't imagine why it wouldn't be. Other than maybe it's like eating a great big gigantic herbivorous rat.

I've had horse. It was awesome.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:58 AM on January 24, 2004

I've had reindeer at a smorgasbord, but it wasn't particularly impressive, especially compared to the million different herring dishes.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:22 PM on January 24, 2004

Anyone able to help with a butter alternative while we're at it? :)

Do you not have olive oil based spreads where you live? They seem like a pretty good substitute to me, they even make good pastry.
posted by biffa at 1:53 PM on January 24, 2004

And since we're on bragging, I had viper in November, apparently this is the Cameroonian equivalent of viagra - though they didnt mention this till after the meal. I could have had porcupine too but I didnt realise it was there till we were back at the table. The viper was served in its skin which is a bit more decorative than chicken, the meat was like reddish chicken with a gamey taste. Pretty good.
posted by biffa at 1:57 PM on January 24, 2004

Vegetable oil emulsifies better (like butter in a cake), allowing ice cream vans to whisk more air into their nasty sugary fake swirly product.

and if I'm not mistaken, a pre-politics Margaret Thatcher was one of the scientists who developed the stuff – so she shafted the public across two careers.
posted by niceness at 2:05 PM on January 24, 2004

riviera: I definitely remember chicken fat in ice-cream figuring in the news coverage. I'm sure you're right though. Maybe some hyperbolic tabloid was saying that they could put chicken fat in.

On a barely related note, that link you provided awoke some Walsall memories. A couple of years ago the council had commissioned a lovely new art gallery with some high class modern pieces to try and make Walsall known for something other than Jerome K Jerome's birthplace and a bunch of tanneries. They invited a London art critic to come and see. He promptly shafted them by describing Walsall as "like Ceaucescu's Romania, only with fast food outlets".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:51 PM on January 24, 2004

Growing up in rural England there was one stench that surpassed all others: the factory that took chicken shit and processed it into chicken feed.
posted by niceness at 3:24 PM on January 24, 2004

Come to New Zealand, stav. If you still feel dubious, we can go diving and you can get your own scallops.

I used to do that when I lived on the sailboats in the Sea of Cortez - that's why I know the difference! I lived for 9 months in New Zealand, too, but the water's too damn cold for diving there! (joke - I'd love to be able to go back to NZ. One of the most beautiful places in the world....)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:17 PM on January 24, 2004

Anyone able to help with a butter alternative while we're at it? :)
i'm a big fan of this stuff called 'earth balance natural buttery spread'. it tastes good, behaves like butter (for cooking and baking as well as spreading) and isn't hydrogenated.
posted by dolface at 8:40 PM on January 24, 2004

I thought margarine was more of a plastic compound than a fatty compound...
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 PM on January 24, 2004

Troutfishing is clearly in the pay of the nefarious oil companies. (see what I mean now, dude?)
posted by darukaru at 1:35 PM on January 26, 2004

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