The reaction I get when people find out that my food is meatless never ceases to amaze me. The once normal looking nuggets on my plate now seem to have come from outer space. “So, it’s meatless? Then what’s in it?” A part of me wants to respond and criticize their food, “Do you want to know what is in your meat nuggets?” Another part of me, the part that usually wins, is reasonable and polite. This part answers that my nuggets are made up of soy and wheat protein with added flavors. This usually gets a curled lip, furrowed brow and a wrinkled nose.
Rather than tip toeing around the bloody truth, I am now going to tell you where that crispy and crunchy blob of “white meat” comes from. It all begins after birth when baby chicks are sexed. Sexing is when the underpaid worker separates males from females. Females continue down the conveyor belt, while males go into a grinder, if they are lucky, or the garbage if they’re not. Males are considered useless by the industry since they do not grow as fast or as large as hens.
Chicks are placed in pens until they reach a certain weight. As you can see in the pictures, the living conditions are gruesome. Chickens receive little, if any, medical attention. (*note the hand seen in the pictures is from a rescue/investigative worker.)
When chickens reach their slaughter weight (usually around 6-7 weeks of age) they are transferred to the slaughter house. As you will see, some never make it to slaughter…
The journey to the slaughterhouse is brutal and stressful. Chickens are crammed together into small cages which are stacked on top of each other. Cages can be broken, rusted, and otherwise totally unsuitable for transport. When it’s cold, birds may freeze to the cage. Upon arrival, these hens will be ripped from the metal bars, leaving chunks of frozen flesh behind.
Once a hen arrives at the slaughter house, she is hoisted upside down on conveyors. She is first dipped in a “stun bath” to immobilize her. Then her throat is slit. If she’s fortunate, she’ll bleed out before going into the scalding hot water that makes it easier to remove her feathers.
After that, she is now ready to be chopped apart into her component pieces for breast meat, wing meat, thigh meat and that “other” nugget meat. Nugget meat is often (but not always depending on the grower) remnants over from the meat that could not be sold as a “part.” The film below gives an excellent visual summary of this entire slaughtering process.
I think it is great that people are willing to question what is in food. Go ahead and put my soy nuggets under the microscope, but put what’s on your plate under the scope too. Find out where your food comes from and then decide which food really came from outer space.