Meat Glue? It’s All Good, Folks

So back to something more interesting than writerly, insider-baseball crap. Like meat glue! Because what’s not to like about something called “meat glue.”

Meat Glue (MG to you and me) is the new Pink Slime (PS). Just about the time the PS ruckus was dying down, enter MG to take its place. (*1) MG is a perfectly safe (when used correctly), 100% “natural” substance that chefs use to bind foodstuffs together. You can read an excellent introduction to the stuff here.

But in the minds and eyes of those who spend their days critiquing the contemporary food system, MG is yet another example of the way Big Corporations are ripping off consumers and tainting our food supply. ( Nor, I might add, is the  controversy about MG anything new.  MG first came under attack about a year ago, ironically just at the same time that Jamie Oliver first lit into PS).

Nothing could be further from the truth, but as I’ve learned over the past six years, “truth” is a flexible concept when it comes to critiques. (*2) MG is a legitimate culinary tool that takes advantage of the natural properties of natural products.

I could go on in this fashion, making the same points I’ve already made about PS (click the “Pink Slime” tag in the right sidebar for the blog entries I wrote about it). But I’d rather turn this blog entry over to the experts, namely people who make their living thinking, studying, reading, and writing about food science.

So let me direct your attention to two blogs that addressed the issue a year ago. First is this marvelous piece posted at Cooking Issues, a blog run by two guys affiliated with The French Culinary Institute.

The second piece aired a couple of weeks later at the blog operated by the late, and much missed, Chris Raines. (*3) Mercifully, his blog in all its wonder and glory is still available despite his death last December. In the piece, he, too, takes on the reality of meat glue. The video link in his blog entry is dead, but the piece to which he refers can be seen in its entirety in the blog entry at Cooking Issues.

These guys are experts and scientists, and I can add nothing to what they have to say except to reiterate a couple of points. As Chris noted:

It is interesting how people speak so positively about Turducken but are somehow “shocked” by the culinary tool that is TG.

Both blogs also emphasize the point that I made when I commented on PS a few weeks back: Meat glue is nothing more than another way to do two things: use every. last. bit. of the carcass.

Chris also makes a crucial point, one I make over and over in my meat book (which, yes, will see life eventually): Using meat glue is a way to give American consumers what they want: cheap meat. As Chris wrote:

Products made using “meat glue” might include “value brand” steaks (this is how $2/lb ‘filets’ are possible, folks), imitation crab, fish sticks, and others.

Never, and I mean NEVER, underestimate the American appetite for cheap, abundant food. There ain’t no. way. in. hell. all those steakhouse chains can sell what they sell as cheaply as they do without a) mass production methods of feeding; b) tools like meat glue; and c) an insatiable demand for such stuff from the public.

If you don’t like stuff like MG or PS, I repeat my advice: either stop eating meat (and, in the case of “glue,” other foods as well; OR pony up serious money for stuff that doesn’t use either (which will, in turn, likely lead you to eat less meat, or to eat meat as an accompaniment rather than a main dish).

My thanks to Jesse R. Bussard for reminding me about Chris’ meat glue blog post.

_________________

*1: Why, you may ask, have I not gotten to this sooner? Because I’ve been swamped to the max with a bunch of other, work-related matters (blogging being only one small part of my work), and because I was out of town when the story got hot and I still believe — dinosaur that I am — that vacations with family should be just that: vacations with family, rather than hanging with family and carrying on as if I were at home.

*2: This weekend I re-read James McWilliams’ superb assessment of the “food critique,” his book Just Food. Among the many points he makes is that much of the current food critique has less to do with food than with a loathing of corporations and globalization. In the name of that loathing, otherwise sensible people are willing to ignore facts and, worse, to ignore valuable tools that could be used to feed everyone, not just Americans with their mania for cheap food.

*3: I thought the world of Chris and am so glad I wrote this blog entry about him long before his death. (He died in a car accident.) Chris was the model of what I think of as the “new” intellectual, and I miss him and his work and his humor every day.

6 thoughts on “Meat Glue? It’s All Good, Folks

  1. Oh for crying out loud.

    Sure, some folks are engaging in pure scaremongering. Some folks may be misleading others in trying to claim that MG or PS is “unsafe”. Just as some folks in the industry will tell you that whatever they do in the production of our food that it is harmless and purely in our best interests in providing cheap abundant food.

    Bullshit.

    It’s pretty clear from this nations ever growing obesity problem that there is no shortage of cheap calories. Nevermind that so much of what is sold via big ag only vaguely resembles the wholesome nutritious food items available a few generations ago.

    But hey…just as long as it’s cheap.

    The comparison of a turducken and MG is just ridiculous. A turducken is no more an alien creation than an olive stuffed with pimientos or goat cheese. Ok…not much more. 🙂

    The whole molecular gastronomy fad is highlighting the intersection of science geeks and chefs and artists and magicians. MG is just one of the tools in their technological quiver in creating the amazing “food” they do. And the thing is all the chefs I know that are into that are very open about their use of things like MG. You know… a simple thing called disclosure.

    The Cooking Issues blog is a great site for those like me that are science geeks and also like to cook/play with food. Some of the work they have done with rotary evaporators and distillation is very cool. I just wish they would post more often!

    What most people get upset about in regards to our food supply is the simple lack of disclosure. So many of the rules regarding food labeling are driven by the corporate interests and the power they yield over our ever whoring legislators.

    I understand that there is a difference between steak and Steak-umms. All most people will ask for is that the use of MG or PS (or the hundreds of other compounds that industry uses in our food processing industry) be required on the fricking label so I can be sure that when I go buy a real steak that is what I’m getting!

    • Well for what it’s worth: as all of that commentary noted, meat processors DO have to label “formed” meat as such. And as Chris pointed out (god, I miss that guy!), if someone thinks they’re really getting “prime” for two bucks a pound, then I’ve got some weedy lawn to sell them. So this all circles back to what you and I agree on: labeling would be great! But again: that’s SO much easier said than done. Politics, politics, politics. Alas.
      PS: So great to have you hear as a commentator. I truly appreciate it. Thanks!

  2. I agree with a lot of what you are saying, and meat glue and (to a lesser extent) pink slime has a lot of similarities with not just turducken but also sausage making and other processes.

    I would be interested in hearing you explore two things though (which maybe you will in your book!) First: why are Americans so price driven, and second: what is the actual effect on meat prices.

    My hunch is that if people go to the store and see everything labelled “steak”, many just shrug and get the least expensive because they have no other basis for comparison. My other hunch is that this is about a modest percent of steak scraps, which previously would have been turned into ground beef.

    What I am getting at is that rather than well meaning companies trying desperately to feed a public that’s ready to riot over every dime increase per pound, I think we have companies who have specifically cultivated a lack of transparency in product labeling, which in turn has trained the public to to only value price. I think that very large meat producers simply compete better in that landscape, so that is what they try to do.

    So I agree with you, except I feel like you are describing the tail, and describing the dog, but not acknowledging that the tail is wagging the dog 🙂

    • Hi, Erik, and thanks for commenting. I went over to your website. I love it! Great design and even better content. I’m already a fan. Re. your questions: Yes, the book spend a lot of time (text?) diggning into Americans’ obsession w/cheap food (and it IS an obsession). One factor (but not the only) is that since the early 20th century, ours has been a consumer-driven economy, but that fate of such an economy rests in part on cheap food. (The less people have to spend on food, the more they have to spend on other “stuff.”)

      Stuff like Meat Glue and Pink Slime are driven by the need to cut every. single. cost in the processing plant AND on the farm. Byproducts, which once subsidized the cost of pork and beef, no longer do (primarily because plastics have replaced things like leather and bone).

      But to your point about transparency and labeling: I think most poeple don’t realize how weirly Kafkaesque the world of “labeling” is. It amazes me that ANY labeling regulations get put in place, given the bureaucratic and political machinations necessary to put them there. But as to price: frankly, it’s the PUBLIC that has “trained” the food processors to ompete on price and on “convenience.” (For which we Americans are willing to pay beaucoup bucks, sadly. That’s my biggest bitch about ouur food system.)

      Anyway, I’m sure hoping that the book, when it comes out (which won’t be for months) will illuminate questions precisely like the ones you asked. They’re great questions. They’re the questions ALL of us should be asking. Food is so so so complicated. (Which is why I get so so so frustrated by poeple who think easy solutions are the answers to complex problems.) Thanks again for stopping by. I so appreciate it.

    • I just zipped around your blog some more (great stuff!!) and can’t resist telling you that I just yesterday finished re-reading James McWilliams’ JUST FOOD. (He’s the guy who wrote teh op-ed piece about meat you commented on at your blog.) If you’ve not read it, I recommend it. I don’t agree with him on everything, and I think he made a critical error with his great wrap-up in the final chapter of the book — BUT it’s hands-down the most nuanced and thoughtful critique of our food system AND of its critics. Five thumbs up.

  3. Thanks for looking at my site! It is a bit of a work in progress. Food is incredibly complicated, but the more I understand about it the more I find it is at the heart of everything – health, the environment, consumerism, etc.

    I would be very interested if there is real data on choices Americans make when buying meat. As long as many (non-wholefoods) groceries don’t label, we just don’t know who is training who. MG and pink slime are loaded terms, but what if there were two choices – frozen patties, and frozen patties that said “made from ground whole cuts” or something. I think a majority of the population would pay a bit more for this. A shift of 50% of the population willing to pay 10% more could easily be enough that it makes more sense to just sell the micro scraps as dog food rather than make multiple products. Likewise, if a restaurant menu had a $1 upcharge on a steak with “this steak is a whole cut of meat” or similar.

    Anyway I think once there is transparency in the system and people know what they are getting we can see the real values. At that point the consumer dollars will flow and the choice will be known – and interestingly almost every political point of view is in favor of transparency, so it seems like this should happen any day now (heh).

    That McWIlliam’s book is on my list – although he seems to be mainly centered on promoting veganism now, Just Food seems worthwhile. I’m hoping it comes out on audio, I’m a horribly slow reader.

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