Mechanically separated chicken and other horrors

I’ve always known that chicken nuggets (and other processed chicken products) are unhealthy. Like, really unhealthy. And that all sorts of chemicals, including butane, are added to the nuggets to make them more closely resemble food, and not ‘foam” during the frying process.

And, I’ve sometimes read “mechanically separated chicken” in the ingredients of the chicken products we’ve eaten. But I didn’t know what that looked like until now:

This pic has been floating around the internet in the past few days:


mechanically separated chicken

Blog posts that discuss the picture usually offer gruesome descriptions of what actually ends up in that paste, and the gory details of turning it back into a foodlike product. I’m not convinced they’re all true, so I’ll stick with what seems verifiable:

Wikipedia definition: Mechanically separated meat (MSM), also known as mechanically recovered/reclaimed meat (MRM), is a paste-like meat product produced by forcing beef, pork, turkey or chicken bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve  or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue. Mechanically separated meat has been used in certain meat and meat products since the late 1960s. This product can be contrasted with meat extracted by advanced meat recovery systems. The most common use of MSM is into hot dogs.

On the plus side, the process of mechanically separating the meat allows us to use every bit of meat – and access bits that would otherwise be thrown away. The counter argument, in my head at least, is that if we’re going to eat meat at all, I’d rather my family eat the high quality portions, not the remnants stuck to the bones.

In the last few years, we’ve become pretty aware of where our food comes from (The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan started the ball rolling) and for the most part, we try to eat locally grown, ‘hippie’ foods.  We’re trying to eat only the veggies and fruits that are in season, but we’re not anywhere near perfect on this count. In fact, until I started gardening, I don’t think I could’ve told you which produce was in season when, except for maybe pumpkins.

We’ve started getting some of our food from Greenling, which delivers weekly. (This because I went on an egg-researching bender and found only Greenling carries local, healthy humane eggs from a local company I researched. Frank likes to jokingly refer to our eggs as “spa” eggs because he thinks the chickens are pampered, but he’s on board with the changes, too, even if he pretends to grumble about them.)

We’ve made some changes. Small changes, and reasonable ones, but still changes.

But we’ve still indulged in the occasional chicken nugget (and hot dog), both at home and at fast food places.

I can’t stomach them anymore. And I’m debating with myself about whether to show Christopher the picture above.

I haven’t talked much to people about the food changes we’ve made because I abhor evangelism in any form, and don’t feel it’s my place to tell people what food they should eat, unless they ask. So, I won’t be turning this blog into a whole foods advocacy site, but am happy to talk about food with anyone who’s interested.

Just for fun, here’s a list of common foods that typically consist of mechanically separated meat:

– hot dogs

– chicken nuggets & patties (not Chik Fil A nuggets, though!)

– practically all breakfast sausages, and most turkey bacon.

– beef jerky

– bologna, salami, pepperoni, etc

– potted meat products (ew)

– canned chili

(many of the organic alternatives, like Applegate Farms, don’t use mechanically separated anything.)

On the plus side, ingredients lists must say “mechanically separated”. If you see “chicken breast”, it means pieces of chicken breast, and not mechanically separated paste pressed into chicken breast form. (but don’t be fooled by McD’s “white boneless chicken” on their McNugget ingredient list; it’s still mechanically separated white meat. Not sure how they’re able to avoid the labeling requirement.)

Hooray for modern technology.

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