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Essay Fun . .

My potted food product

What’s in your Pantry, could it explode?

Sometimes I find my morbid fascination with food products really gets the better of me. For example, when I was at a friend’s house years ago, after weekend binge of recreational hallucinogens. Brian handed me a small aluminum can with a blue label that read “Libby’s POTTED MEAT FOOD PRODUCT” I must have given him a pretty odd look because he smiled and said, “Read the ingredients.” I still to this day remember how the can rotated to the right bringing first the manufacturers propaganda and serving suggestions into view. The few lines of script reading “Libby’s potted meat is a delicately seasoned spread perfect for sandwiches and snacks. Stir in chopped onion, salsa, or pickle relish for variety” seemed innocuous enough as my eyes raced on and came to rest on the ingredients. So, what was in this stuff that was so interesting to my friend anyways? I soon found out, and am haunted to this day.

Mechanically Separated Chicken, Partially Defatted cooked pork fatty tissue, beef tripe, partially defatted cooked beef fatty tissue, vinegar, salt, spices, sugar, natural flavors, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrate.

So what exactly is Mechanically Separated Chicken? I already had good conceptions about what the salt, vinegar, spices, sugar and natural flavors did. But, how in the world did you partially de-fat cooked fatty tissue and what was it? Why in gods name do food products have these kinds of ingredients listed and do people actually eat this stuff? All questions that simultaneously ripped into my mind and demanded answers from my recovering brain.

When I consider the term “Mechanically Separated Chicken” some colossal Rube Goldberg-ian device assembles itself in my head. A giant conveyor belt laden with chicken after chicken, being fed into the gaping maw of this mechanical monstrosity, accompanied screaming chickens, hideous squelches, grinding noises, vacuum pumps, and obscene piston noises. Yielding at the other end a pile of beaks, claws, feathers and other unnamable inedible carcass bits in a neat little pile and an extruded gelatinous paste coming out of the other nozzle. Turns out, the imagery my mind came up with wasn’t too far from the truth.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) – Consumer Education and Information website. “Mechanically Separated Poultry (MSP) is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.”

Beef tripe is simply a portion of the cow’s stomach used in ethnic cooking around the world from Cambodia, to Japan, from France to the Deep South of the United States. According to the Food Tales Section of the Soupsong.com website “One thing is sure, this delectable, gelatinous, and blonde membrane--celebrated by Homer and by Rabelais--is tough to digest. Ideally it's cooked some 12 hours, and it should never be eaten by the dyspeptic or goutish.”

My mind boggles at the idea of partially de-fatting pork fatty tissue and I wonder if they have put the little pigs on treadmills prior to the slaughter. Is there some combination of acids and bases, some chemical, industrial process for getting rid of some of the fat but leaving some of it behind?

On the set of flashcards available on FSIS website, the process seems fairly bland and didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Partially Defatted Beef or Pork fatty tissue is defined as an “Emulsion-like byproduct derived from low temperature rendering (not exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit) of fatty trimmings containing less than 12% lean meat.” According to the site in order to utilize the term “Partially Defatted Beef or Pork fatty tissue” with their product. The statement “with variety meats” or “with byproducts” must be contiguous to the product name, Libby’s and its parent corporation Nestle Food Company seem to have found a way around this.

Moving on in the list, we come to sodium erythorbate, something I had never heard of. After doing a little research, I found on a website by French Agricultural Corporation - Roquette Freres with instructions for replacing and using this food color preservative, as a replacement reducer for photographic developer. It is also used elsewhere by PMP Fermentation, Inc as a corrosion inhibitor in the field of oil well drilling.

Sodium nitrate, a preservative used to counter the growth of botulism has many other industrial and agricultural uses. On the Data
sheet for sodium nitrate on the Hummel Croton Inc Website I learned that beyond the pickling of meats, it is used in glass and match manufacture, as a fertilizer, and in enamels in pottery. More disturbing was the handling cautions, which advise that Sodium Nitrate is a dangerous fire hazard and explosion risk when in contact with organic materials and reducing agents. The best part being “avoid ingestion and inhalation”

Wait a minute, let me get this straight, The sodium nitrate is an explosion risk when in contact with organic materials and reducing agents, and the sodium erythorbate is a reducing agent sometimes used in photographic development.
Now my morbid fascination makes me wonder what kind of a threat to National Security my knowledge of possibly explosive laden can’s of “Libby’s POTTED MEAT FOOD PRODUCT” makes me. Every time I walk down the aisle at the store all I see are little cans that could be functional replacements for la fragmentation grenade and a terrorist’s playground. This definitely does not seem to the best idea for a food product for the masses to be consuming. I have to suggest an immediate ban. for WR115. Its worth the read.



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2004 10:09 pm (UTC)
You are such the heavy-handed food critic, josh ;-) This is great.
Feb. 8th, 2004 10:23 pm (UTC)
Absolutely wonderful. Makes me very glad I recently gave up meat.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go throw up now.
Feb. 8th, 2004 10:29 pm (UTC)
I must ask - what's with the Ovid name?
Feb. 8th, 2004 10:52 pm (UTC)
I happen to enjoy poetry. Years ago, when I signed up for Perl Monks (it's a tech community, so most would find it boring), I tried to figure out what user name I would want. My two favorite poets are Ovid and John Davidson (a 19th century poet, not the pasty white bread actor of today). Ovid just seemed like a better user name.

Now I'm known quite a bit as Ovid and I'm extremely well-known in the Perl community, so I stuck with the name. "Ovid" is well-known enough for his programming knowledge that I've picked up jobs in Amsterdam, Vermont, and my current place of employment in Portland. As a result, I stick with that name because I like Ovid and it's a nice marketing tool (Ovid would have loved being a marketing tool, no?). Too bad he was a misogynist.

Side note: I had an ex-girlfriend tell me that she was a bit worried about me because I enjoyed such a misogynistic poet. Another friend commented that she'd much rather have her misogyny in the form of classic Roman poetry than in the Budweiser/gun rack variety that we get today. I laughed my ass off.
Feb. 9th, 2004 03:48 pm (UTC)
Ok makes sense. I just had to ask, because, well, I study Ovid.

And Ovid wasn't misogynistic. Compared to most men in his time period (and essentially all men before the rise of feminism), he was probably more respectful of women. At least they warranted a place in his literature.
Feb. 9th, 2004 04:16 pm (UTC)
He wasn't? Perhaps he wasn't by the standards of his day, but while he loved women, it seemed that he loved them primarily for sex. He wrote poems expressing his jealousy and his love for the conquest, but to my admittedly untutored eye, it seemed that he really didn't treat women as equals (unless you count his letters to his wife after he was relegated to Tomis).

How much do you study Ovid? Are you familiar with the theory that his poems about "Corinna" were actually referring to his wife from his first marriage (the arranged one?).

And do you have any theories about what he saw that led to him being banished to Tomis?
Feb. 9th, 2004 06:30 pm (UTC)
I think the "standards of the day" get less respect than they deserve. This whole "women as equals" thing is incredibly recent, and we can't judge the Romans by our standards. At least he included women, he valued them, he even gave them some advice. Compared to other authors who acted as if they were living in a world entirely composed of men, he was pretty fair.

I'm actually just beginning to get more into Ovid studies, so I don't know all the elaborate theories as of yet. I'm a medievalist, so I work with the influence of Ovid in the Middle Ages. So far that has just required reading his works, but since the first half of my dissertation will draw heavily from theory concerning Ovid's Ars, I'm going to have to get deeper into it. My diss. isn't due until 2007 though, so I'm not there yet. So basically I study Ovid, but I'm no Ovid scholar ... ask me in a couple years ;-)

I know of the Corinna theory, but the only theory I've heard for his exile is the one which entails him getting in trouble for writing the Ars ... but whenever someone says that one they immediately imply it's not true. However, they don't then offer another idea in its place.
Feb. 8th, 2004 10:54 pm (UTC)
ha ha ha
i so have to go check the can of corned beef hash i bought
Feb. 9th, 2004 01:09 am (UTC)
But what makes it potted? I thought it was in a can.
Feb. 9th, 2004 06:22 pm (UTC)
First you plant cubes of the gelled product in potting soil, then each grows into a lovely tree bearing tins of treet. It's magical.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2004 04:26 pm (UTC)
Hey, how are you getting to the moving party on Saturday? Can you give me a ride out there?

Feb. 11th, 2004 07:53 pm (UTC)
Re: saturday....
I'll see what i can arange with the female parental unit. I'll e-mail or call one I know.

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )