In the course of reporting a story for one of our finer food publications, I learned something so revolting it had no place in the article. I was talking with a leading sausage maker, both of us extolling the wonders of beef and pork and fat, and I asked him what were some of the things that make an inferior sausage. He listed a number of factors and then said, "But the really disgusting stuff is mechanically separated meat." What…exactly…is mechanically separated meat, says I. He explained that animal carcasses from which the main muscles have been removed, that is everything good to eat, are dumped into some sort of industrial strength salad spinner, called a beehive, and whipped around so hard that all the scraps of meat still clinging to bone and cartilage fly off and through a sieve, and are collected as a kind of pink paste and used to pad out any number of meat products.
I said, So that means all kinds of other "material" could possibly be included? He said yes. I said, Like nerves and glands and cartilage and minute bone fragments. Yes, it’s measured for “calcium content” (aka pulverized bone), can only have a certain percentage by weight. The pink came from bone marrow. Spinal tissue? Apparently this is why you can get mechanically separated bovine dirt cheap these days.
I'm not going to judge anyone for choosing an agribusiness processed wurst over an actual pork sausage with the recommended 30% percent pork fat and delectible seasonings, but if you're feeling particularly proud of yourself for opting for that Healthy Choice turkey sausage, check the label for mechanically separated….
And remember, as always, the advice of the great cartoonist B. Kliban: never eat anything bigger than your head.