While walking through the meat section of the supermarket, deciding what to purchase for the week isn’t as simple as reading the labels. There are many things to consider about the packages of meat you place in your shopping cart that aren’t advertised, not even in fine print.
Consider, for example, the different types of meat that are available for purchase in Canada. Among the most popular and readily accessible are meat products from adult mammals, such as chicken, turkey, cows, sheep, goats and horses. This meat is categorized into either “red” or “white,” depending on the concentration of myoglobin in its muscle fibre.
The redness of meat also is dependant on the species, age and fibre type. Generally, meat obtained from cows, sheep, goats and horses is considered red meat. White meat appears lighter than red meat because it has relatively less oxygen and thus, a decreased amount of oxymyoglobin. Chicken and turkey breasts are regarded as white meat.
Along with red and white, meat can be further classified as either “kosher” or “halal.” These names correspond to traditions and rituals related to the consumption and production of meat. Kosher is native to the Jewish culture.
In Hebrew, “Kashrus” means “pure” or “clean.” In order to ensure pure production of meat, the Torah outlines a comprehensive list of regulations for meat preparation. When you come across kosher meat, it exclusively comes from animals that have hooves split into two toes and who “chew the cud.” This traditional saying means that the animal does not have the necessary enzymes to digest the cellulose of plant matter, so they repeatedly chew on it.
These conditions exclude meat from pigs and camels, deeming them as “unclean.” The animals that satisfy this regulation include cows, sheep, veal, springbok, bulls, lambs and goats.
Kosher meat is slaughtered in a very particular manner. The animal must be killed so that death is instantaneous, which is said to reduce the amount of pain experienced by the animal. Then, the meat is stripped of forbidden fats and veins, soaked in a bath of water to drain the blood and salted with coarse salt.
Contrary to popular conception, a rabbi does not bless kosher meat. In fact, foods can be kosher without the involvement of a rabbi or priest.
On the other hand, Muslims traditionally consume Halal meat. Like Kosher meat, Halal meat has certain rules and regulations associated with its production.
First, the animal must be healthy, given water prior to the slaughter and killed by eliciting minimal pain. Severing the windpipe, jugular vein and carotid artery with one quick swipe using a razor sharp blade typically does this.
Prior to the killing of an animal, a passage of the Quran is recited and the animal must be positioned to face Makkah. Similar to kosher meat, the blood is immediately drained from the animal after slaughter.
The last method of meat production food labels don’t describe is regular government-regulated animal slaughter. Typically, animals are stunned (i.e. by applying an electric current, shooting the animal with a gun or suffocating the animal with carbon dioxide) and then drained of blood. Death results from either the first or second procedure.
There have been a multitude of news reports depicting the often harsh conditions under which animals are bred and slaughtered. Thus, the idea that government-regulated meat production is done in a non-humane manner has increased the popularity of kosher and halal meat products.
Ultimately, no matter how you slice, meat is nutritious. Muscle tissue is high in protein, contains essential amino acids and is high in vitamin B12, niacin, iron, riboflavin, phosphorus and several other compounds.
The fat content of meat can vary widely depending on the species and body part consumed. Overall, deer is typically leaner than farm animals and, in comparison to lamb, steak and pork, chicken breast has the lowest amount of calories and fat. However, depending on the type of steak one chooses, the fat content varies widely. For example, T-bone beef has approximately eight times the amount of fat in top round beef, as well as twice the amount of calories. Although white meat is leaner, red meat contains essential nutrients especially important for the growth and development of children.
Despite how rich in nutrients meat may be, there are many negative health affects related to its consumption. Large amounts of meat in one’s diet are linked to obesity, heart disease, constipation and certain types of cancer (lung, esophagus, liver, colon). Several studies have linked consumption of red meat, especially pork, with pancreatic cancer. Animal fat has a high percentage of saturated fat, which is often difficult to remove or measure. Many people are unknowingly consuming more fat than they are aware of with the ingestion of meat products, which has been speculated as a contributing factor for obesity.
Whether you regularly consume Kosher, Halal or regular meat products, the initiative is yours to research what goes into the meat you consume.