The McRib Sandwich is Back! Be Very Afraid

Of all the abominations found on fast food menus, there’s the McRib sandwich, and then there is everything else. Technically a “restructured meat product,” it is literally nothing more than a pile of squashed pig organs.

Of the three main components, the pig heart is the least revolting. That makes the McRib an ideal Valentine’s Day present. Give your sweetie one of these as a present, and the chances are good that you’ll never have to buy that person another present again.

The tripe portion is probably the most nutritous of the group, though not normally associated with barbecue sauce. However, it will take a heap of sausage casings to make that sandwich.

The most exotic of the trio is the scalded pig stomach. The only possible use for this seems to be to make the ingredients as cheap as they can possibly be. The irony is that if you eat this, the same thing may possibly happen to your stomach.

So there you have it, the best example of you don’t even get what you pay for with fast food. A McRib is like a McJob or a McMansion–all image without real substance. This sandwich should run for office.

Pink Slime is Back! This time It’s News, not Meat. A Classic Food Lawsuit Revisited.

Few people remember the renowned “Pink Slime” lawsuit between a company named Beef Products Inc. and ABC/Disney. BPI sued ABC/Disney for referring to their product they called “lean finely textured beef” (processed beef trimmings treated with ammonia) as “Pink Slime” during a 2012 broadcast. BPI sued for $1.9 billion in damages for lost business. They settled for a payout of $177 million.

The back story is even better. LFTB was for years regulated as being suitable for “limited” human consumption in the US, though it was and still is banned by the EU. Along came the corporate friendly GW Bush administration, and suddenly in 2001 the ammonia treated beef was allowed to be sold country wide as a beef product, without being included on the ingredients label. In 2002 USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein came up with the descriptive term “Pink Slime,” and emailed his colleagues that “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.” Zirnstein was overruled, naturally.

By 2004 the rules concerning LFTB were relaxed even further by the USDA, and school hamburgers were allowed to contain up to 15% LFTB, without any labeling. By 2008 students were unknowingly eating 5.5 million pounds of LFTB per year, until there was a temporary suspension of use due to E. coli contamination. However, it was only temporary, until August of the same year, when E. coli was found in LFTB products for a third time, and the USDA stopped shipping to schools. By this time an estimated 75% of US hamburgers include LFTB.

By 2011 the stuff begins to hit the fan, as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is the first nationally broadcast media production to highlight the widespread use of LFTB in school lunches. Then comes the 2012 ABC news story and the subsequent lawsuit. Finally, in 2018 BPI gets to take a victory lap–the USDA ruled that their new and improved beef product, without the fine texture, could be labeled as “ground beef.” Just don’t call it LFTB or “Pink Slime” anymore.

What has this got to do with the news industry? An old nickname has been re-born, as corporate sponsored propaganda packaged as news (most of what’s broadcast) has been dubbed “pink slime.” The slime part is easily understood, and the pink makes it memorable. The analogy is to insist that your name for something is the right one, reality or no reality, and sue any one important who disagrees. Remember the old joke about the news? The news industry treats citizens like they’re mushrooms, by keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure.

So money as speech is reaching its logical conclusion. The best example was the multi billion dollar lawsuit over the meaning of the word sugar. It was Big Ag (corn syrup) vs. Big Sugar (cane and beets), with Big Sugar winning. Corn syrup is still corn syrup, not sugar. Big Ag vs. your average citizen–not happening, as it isn’t worth either’s time. Just lay out the facts and let the people choose. Enough of them will pick slime, as long as they don’t know what it really is.

How to Put the Hammer Down on Big Chicken

The AI [Avian Influenza] virus is most often transmitted from one infected flock to another flock by infected birds, people or equipment.

North Carolina State University

In yet another amazing display of smoke and mirrors, the British government has banned free range chickens, and therefore, free range eggs. This rather transparent ploy came as many large indoor factory farms suffered bird flu outbreaks, which the government blamed on free range flocks, which strangely enough, were not experiencing the same levels of infection. Free range eggs, however, had taken over two-thirds of the consumer market in the UK, with five large grocery market chains selling nothing but free range eggs. Now that market share will be shifted back to factory farmed eggs.

This is the politics of Big Chicken–if you can’t beat the competition, have the government shut them down.

And it isn’t just free range chickens that are taking the blame–there are also those pesky wild birds. The following quote came from the NPR website, under the title of “A worrisome new bird flu is spreading in American birds and may be here to stay.” Here’s what one of the people who head Big Chicken in the US has to say–

“So I think I am kind of holding my breath this month,” says Denise Heard, director of research programs for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

The virus has a number of ways to get from wild birds into poultry, says Heard. Since the last outbreak, the industry has worked to educate farmers about how to protect their flocks.

“Wild migratory waterfowl are always flying over the top and when they poop, that poop gets on the ground,” she says, explaining that the virus can then get tracked into bird houses on boots or inadvertently moved from farm to farm on vehicles.

Heard says there currently seems to be less spread of the virus from farm to farm than was seen during the last major outbreak. Instead, there are more isolated cases popping up, perhaps because wild birds are bringing the viruses to farms and backyard flocks.

NPR, April 9, 2022

There is just enough truth here that it makes the idea of 5 million chicken mega-farms being composed of “bird houses” more than particularly hilarious. Migratory waterfowl do in fact suffer from bird flu, but they don’t die at nearly the death rates that battery caged chickens suffer. The slip-up comes when Ms. Heard says the virus is “moved from farm to farm,” which will be obvious when spring migration ends, and the disease just keeps on trucking.

My crystal ball tells me the next scapegoat will be backyard flocks. After all, of the more than 13 million diseased and culled poultry that Iowa had in March 2022, 53 were from backyard flocks. Just do the math. The interwebs is already full of do’s and don’ts for local chicken. Big Chicken gets a pass.

However, don’t expect anything from Big Chicken except higher prices, windfall profits, and the same low quality products. Therefore, I am proposing a Joel Salatin, aka the world’s most famous farmer, style solution to the problem: do nothing, as long as part of the nothing includes buying none of their products. Salatin, who is the right kind of conservative, in that he works to conserve the environment, says you can protest, lobby, and write all the letters that you want, but if you still buy those McNuggets regularly, Big Chicken just doesn’t care.

So the next time an industry plays the old look over here, not there, game, just assume they have something to hide. I know where my eggs come from, and its from our big chickens, but not Big Chicken.

A Pizza Hut and Three AK-47s

As someone who spent an entire two months working at a fast food joint, every year at this time I have to celebrate the anniversary of the great Pizza Hut heist. This particular robbery involved three young women who were teenagers, all of whom were packing AKs.

The locale was Bessemer, Alabama, part of the Birmingham Metroplex. When you have a new AK, the impulse is to use it, so they decided to knock over the local Pizza Hut. And they were not after the bread sticks.

The news for this trio went from bad to worse. Anyone who has worked in retail lately knows that hardly anyone pays cash–it’s all on the plastic. The teenager’s reward was twenty something bucks and change, which they promptly lost in the parking lot. Then the police, who must have mistaken the Hut for a doughnut shop, nailed them right away.

Moral of this story? Don’t mess with the Hut in this state. It’s enough to make Mikhail Kalashnikov proud.

The Curse of the Colonel

A Slugger?

Spring is just around the corner here, on the first day of winter, and Spring Training will be here in ein Augenblick, or the blink of an eye. The “Boys of Summer” will be back at it, and could there be fans this season that aren’t cardboard cut outs? But there is a food related curse that should be known to every baseball fan. Naturally, it involves the Japan League, Kentucky, and fried chicken.

A favorite Christmas meal in Japan, according to Deutsche Welle, is a big box of KFC fried chicken, which is known as a “party barrel.” KFC restaurants will decorate their Colonel Sanders statues in Santa suits as well, which is better than the Tokyo department store whose Christmas display was Santa nailed to a cross (a definite holiday mix-up there). “Party barrels” may include wine and cakes with fried chicken, which makes them so not KFC USA. So why would the revered Colonel curse part of Japan?

The Hanshin Tigers could be considered the equivalent of the Cleveland Sports ball team of the MLB American League. You win some, you lose some, at about an equal clip. The Tigers, however, became the sworn enemies of the fried chicken gods in 1985.

The Tigers won their only Japan League title that year, and the celebration turned both epic and Dionysian. Revelers gathered on the Ebisu Bridge in Osaka, and began throwing people into the river below (canal, actually,) who resembled members of the team. One problem–their star player was an American slugger named Randy Bass, who had a beard. There were no Americans with beards in the crowd.

Therefore, a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders was thrown in instead. Within moments, the Colonel was swimming with the fishes, and the curse was on.

Curses make much easier excuses than bad management and crappy players. Eighteen years of last and next to last place finishes ensued. In 2003 the team won a division, and over 5,000 fans jumped into the canal. The Colonel was unimpressed, and the Tigers lost in the playoffs.

Finally, in 2009, pieces of the Colonel were rediscovered, with eventually everything but his glasses and left hand being found. These were reproduced, and the Colonel returned to KFC. Sorry, but it didn’t work. Still crappy players and mediocre management.

They need to follow the example of a perennial doormat like the Atlanta Braves. They finally sign Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, three Hall of Fames pitchers, and Bobby Cox as Manager, who racked up 162 Manager Ejections (a record by far for Managers,) but also racked up a bushel of league, and one World Series, title. Funny how talent beats a curse every time.

The Medicis, and the First Drive Through/Walk Through/Pick Up Window

There was a good reason that the Medicis ruled Florence and Tuscany for centuries. Besides funding guys named Leonardo and Galileo, they performed many public services. One of the Medici popes even hired an artist to paint his ceiling, though the ceiling happened to be in the Sistine Chapel, and the dude’s name was Michelangelo.

The most interesting invention of the Medici family these days was the take out window, aka wine window. Leave it to the great journalists of Agence France-Presse (French Press Agency) to catalog these gems (for a picture of one, go to the reprint of the article by the website Raw Story).

This is how it happened: the Medicis returned to power in Florence in 1532, and wanted to promote both agriculture, and give the average wine drinker a price break. It was a PR miracle, as both farmers and drinkers were thrilled with the setup. The solution was genius in its simplicity.

First, there needed to be strict regulation. The Medicis only allowed wine windows in palaces, and the selling had to be direct from winery to customer–no middleman. A drinker could only buy 1.5 liters at a time, though apparently there was no limit to the number of windows someone could visit. This rule also assured that there could not be the creation of a monopoly.

Then 1634 rolls around, and everyone’s favorite plague, the Bubonic, hits Florence and Tuscany. Even then, before the germ theory of disease transmission, one local writer noted that the use of wine windows protected people from contracting the disease, in that there was a thick stone wall and a heavy wooden door between buyer and seller. In current terms, there was enforced social distancing.

Fast forward to the present, and everyone’s second favorite plague, Covid-19. Suddenly long unused wine windows are back in operation, except this time there is an entire menu. Various bars are selling wine, as well as mixed drinks, coffee, gelato, and sandwiches, through the windows. The association called Le Bouchette del Vino has an excellent website with a tour of the wine windows of Florence (some saucy French person translated that as “wine holes”). AFP reports that there are officially 149 wine windows in central Florence, and a grand total of 267 known wine windows in the entire province of Tuscany.

So grab some Chianti or even some Morellino di Scansano, and take a virtual tour of the wine holes on It beats riding on a plane for eight hours with some already addled anti-masker.


Food and Semiosis

As if I needed to prove how much of a nerd I am, I have been reading the magnificent book Elements of Semiology (1964) by the great French writer Roland Barthes. That would be about the structuralist science of signification, or the way that meaning is created in whatever system of signs that is being considered. Naturally, being French, Barthes talks about food.

In the section titled “the food system,” Barthes makes the following distinction: “The menu for instance, illustrates very well this relationship between the language and speech: any menu is concocted with reference to a structure (which is both national–or regional–and social); but this structure is filled differently according to the days and the users, just as a linguistic ‘form’ is filled by the free variations and combinations which a speaker needs for a particular message.” So cooking is like talking, in that a person has the structure (ingredients, equipment) and then creates whatever dish they want out of them.

However, my favorite comment is his about fast food, the bête noir of the modern world. Whether this is a really bad translation, or just another of Barthes’ incredibly witty puns, is up for the reader to decide. He talks about the creation of new speech “when new needs are born, following the development of societies.” One example he gives is “the birth of new patterns of quick feeding in industrial and urban societies.” So now we have wonders of linguistics such as the M*Rib, and the Chicken M*Nugget. Both are favorites of people who live in McMansions, and who drive Land Yachts.

The M*Rib is composed of about 70 ingredients, including one that is used in yoga mats. There is no rib in it at all, as the “protein” portion is comprised of pork hearts, intestines, and scalded stomach (allegedly).

No wonder a new language had to be invented to describe this expletive.

Great Southern Food Essays–“The Pleasures of Eating,” by Wendell Berry (1989)

Every writer runs across an essay occasionally, and says, “Damn, I wish I had written that.” Let’s just say that there are probably thousands of writers who wish they had written “The Pleasures of Eating.” Brilliant and prophetic at the same time, it has to be the best takedown of the current food system dominated by big agriculture.

I’m just going to start with one of the finest sentences I’ve ever read. “Like industrial sex, industrial eating has become a degraded, poor, and paltry thing.” Industrial sex? What a comparison. Every time I drive past a fast food place like Chickin-fil-whatever, I have the same thought.

Here’s another zinger, about how oblivious people are to the garbage they are eating. “One will find this same obliviousness represented in virgin purity in the advertisements of the food industry, in which the food wears as much makeup as the actors.” I actually had a student who worked as a food “stylist” and photographer, and she sprayed her food with hair spray before she took a picture of it. Enough said.

I will end with the thesis, which is something of an odd way to end, but it is “the proposition that eating is an agricultural act.” I won’t give all of Berry’s recommendations, but a revised version of the entire essay is posted on the interwebs. Alas, it omits the industrial sex reference. Read it, and weep anyway, for the current state of our food system. Then go to your local farmer’s market, and buy some real food.

I saw Mr. Berry once, when he gave a reading at the University of Illinois. He drove up from his farm in Kentucky, and showed up wearing a pair of overalls. That’s what we call keeping it real.

I was a Teenage Fast Food Worker, Part Three–Declaring My Independence


At least it looks edible.

After a little less than two months working at our local fast food fried chicken joint in Cullman, Alabama, I had had enough. Two things led to a quick and final middle finger to the whole establishment.

The first was being told, nay ordered, to cook forty pounds of rotten chicken. One day right before the split, I grabbed my usual forty pound box of “fresh” chicken out of our walk-in cooler, and prepared to marry-nate it. However, when I opened the box, the entire kitchen was filled with the unmistakeable aroma of rotten chicken. In a cost cutting move, our owner, a Yankee carpetbagger who went by the name of “King” Kohl, had hired a patient from a local drug rehab center (at a reduced wage, naturally), to do such chores as rotate the stock in the cooler. The recovering addict was apparently still in recovery mode from a suicide attempt, when he had drunk an entire bottle of Drano, and had forgotten about that one little detail of his job.

This one was a job for the Manager. I tracked her down in her office, and said, “Manager manager manager, we have forty pounds of rotten chicken out here.”

She said, “Let me show you how to take care of this. We can still cook it, because we can’t afford to waste forty pounds of chicken.”

After every time I tell this story, some moralist will object, and say that I should have walked out right then. Au contraire. No one is dumb enough to actually eat rotten chicken. And I could not wait to see our manager have to deal with the first consumer who found out that they had actually paid for rotten meat. I was already into schadenfreude back then.

The manager first coated each piece of chicken in a thick coat of baking soda, and then rinsed them in borderline scalding hot water. Sure enough, the stink was gone from the exterior of the chicken. The manager was proud of herself, and said, “Cook it!” This was Frankenstein’s chicken.

The fundamental problem with the reanimation of rotten chicken is that chicken does not rot in layers. A chicken is not an onion, and an onion is not a chicken. On our farm, over the years, I had seen literally dozens of dead chickens. Not a single one was ever rotten on just the surface.

I fried the chicken and put it in our drawer warmer. It was a slow afternoon, and it took awhile to get down to the level of the rotten chicken. Then, there it was–nothing left but forty pounds of rotten chicken. Who would be the first victim?

A guy in a Buick pulled up to our door a few minutes later. Fate or chance was staring at him. He walked in the door, and was greeted by our cashier.

Cashier: “Kin I hep yu?” (Can I help you?)

Potential Victim: “I would like a bucket of chicken, please.” He didn’t sound like someone who would fall for a marketing trick, like renaming something greasy and fried as “Crispy.”

Cashier: “Woold you like the crees-pee, or tha oorigeenul res-a-pee?” (Would you like the crispy, or the original recipe?)

Potential Victim thought for a moment, and then said. “I’ll take a bucket of the Crispy this time.” Now he was upgraded to Future Victim.

I hid behind a wall in the kitchen, and did a fist pump. This guy was sure to rake our manager over the coals. I looked at my watch as he walked out the door, and made a mental bet with myself as to when he would be back.

Fifteen minutes later I heard squealing tires in the parking lot. Victim was back, and he did not look happy. He marched in the door with a single drumstick in his hand, which had one bite taken out of it. He stuck it in our cashier’s face and said, “SMELL THIS.”

“PEE-YOU,” she said, and waved a fake finger-nailed hand in front of her face. “Thy-at smells bi-add. I’m gonna git the man-a-jur fur yu.” (Phew, that smells bad. I’m going to get the manager for you.)

She went to the office, practically grabbed the manager, hauled her to the front, and hid behind her. Victim stuck said chicken in the manager’s face, and said, “SMELL THIS.”

“That smells like it’s off,” the manager said. “Would you like another bucket of chicken?” Not the right thing to say.

Victim screamed in her face. “I DON’T WANT ANYMORE OF YOUR STINKING CHICKEN.”

“Would you like a refund?” The manager asked. This was before the days when people sued about things like too hot coffee.

“YES, I WANT MY MONEY BACK,” Victim said.

The manager gave him some cash, and Victim burned rubber leaving the parking lot. The manager walked back into the kitchen, and wanted to talk to me. She said, “Please tell me if you ever find any bad chicken. We can’t let people think we serve bad chicken here. Do you understand?”

I understood perfectly. I said, “Yes, I think I understand.” It was corporate America showing it’s enormous backside. If anything bad happened, it was my fault–especially if it was something I was ordered to do. The rest of the rotten chicken ended up in the dumpster. The one across the street.

As this is a Revenge Farce, I was determined to get more than just even. It only took a couple of days.

I had been working seven days a week for most weeks, but never made it to a full forty hours once. It was always two hours here, six hours there. For my cooperation, I had been guaranteed time off on the Fourth of July. On the third of July, the manager cornered me in the kitchen, and said, ” I have some bad news. Tomorrow is the busiest day of our year. We’re going to need you all day. We start at seven A.M., running the fryers nonstop. You’ll need to stay until the usual 9:30 at night. And you won’t have time for a lunch break.”

Karma really is an unusual thing. With a completely straight face, I looked her in the eye, and said, “I’ll be here bright and early.”

The next morning at eight, I was eating breakfast back at the farm when the phone rang. I answered it, and it was the manager. She said, “Where are you?”

“Here on the phone. I’m running a little late.”

“Get up here as fast as you can,” she said, and hung up. I ate some more biscuit with margarine on it.

Another hour later, as I was getting ready to go to a cookout in Huntsville, the phone rang again. The manager was unhappy this time. She asked, “Why aren’t you here?”

“I must have forgotten to tell you that I quit.”

“You can quit tomorrow. We already have a line of customers. We’re going to be really busy all day. This is the busiest day of the year.”

“I guess you’ll have to cook instead of me. I have a cookout to go to. Bye.” I hung up, and never heard from the wench again. I had declared my independence.

Strangely enough, that third of July, when I was nineteen, was my last day of employment with corporate America. I have had many interviews with technical and scientific firms, subsequently, but zero job offers. I have also freelanced for many publishers, but that’s just freelancing. However, the worst of corporate America has to be the corporations involved in the industrial food business. Greasy isn’t crispy, corn syrup is not sugar, a couple of square feet of space is not free range, up is not down, and most of all, rotten is not fresh. There is a difference between peddlers of addictive foods laced with salt, sugar, and fat, and drug dealers–drug dealers go to jail. Corporate leaders rarely do. Or managers.


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