Prof. Ken Albala, University of the Pacific - Fast Food Meat Content

Albany – In today's Academic Minute, Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific examines the competing claims concerning meat content in some popular fast foods.

Ken Albala is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific where he teaches courses on the Renaissance and Reformation, Food History and the History of Medicine. He is the author of 9 books on food history including Eating Right in the Renaissance (2002), Food in Early Modern Europe (2003), Cooking in Europe 1250-1650 (2005), The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe (2007), Beans: A History (2008), and Pancake (2008). His latest book is The Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time.

About Ken Albala

And if you like food, you will probably enjoy his food blog as well.

Ken Albala - Fast Food Beef?

This semester I began my freshman food policy class with a discussion of the lawsuit over Taco Bell's claim that it uses 100% beef in its tacos. The suit says that the filling contains 35% meat of which only 15% is protein.

Disgusting! my students cried. As did everyone after the media blitz. So what's the remainder? Fillers? Chemicals? Bug Parts?

Taco Bell's president Greg Creed insists the filling is much like you make at home. 88% beef and 12 % water, spices and oats for texture but no extenders.

Clearly someone was lying.

Next, we looked at an article from the Annals of Diagnostic Pathology about the contents not of taco filling but typical fast food hamburger which contains 12% meat, 50% water by weight and 8% each of connective tissue, blood vessels, nerve, fat, plus cartilage and bone.

So the definition of meat is muscle tissue alone? Without water or fat, or anything else? If I bought a steak it would be roughly the same proportions as these hamburgers. My students grasped the absurd use of the term meat here immediately.

The 15% protein (scientifically defined as meat) is exactly what we would expect and with the fat and other parts of the steer maybe that's where the litigants came up with 35% beef, leaving out that naturally occuring 50% water.

Now I can understand why one would not want to eat fast food tacos. But Taco Bell's claim that their mix contains 88% beef plus seasonings appears to be completely honest.

I'm all for truth in advertising. Perhaps more accuate would be Taco Bell starts with "100 percent beef" and adds "seasonings and binders."

When asked whether this would have any effect on their eating at Taco Bell, my students replied, well, it's fast food, you expect there to be some junk in it.

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