The Butcher Is Back
Supermarkets have changed the adage: meat is meat and a man must eat. The fare of frigid food aisles is not just meat any more. It’s meat, monosodium glutamate, soya, sodium phosphate and sodium nitrite. And must man really eat all of that?
“What’s bog-standard practice in the meat industry is the use of phosphates injected into meat,” says advocate-turned-butcher Caroline McCann of Braeside Butcher in Johannesburg. She’s referring to those bulky steaks that seem to mush in your mouth at first bite. “That’s phosphate injecting, and it’s used for two reasons: one is to instantly tenderise, so you get a guaranteed tender steak, and the other is to bulk it up.”
Sodium nitrites are only one of the other unwanted regulars in your steak. The label bashfully admits their presence’s name in slender font, lurking near the barcode. “The thing about sodium nitrite which is nice for producers is it’s an antiseptic,” says Dr Albrecht, head of research at CANSA. “It kills germs and preserves that meat against deterioration and bacterial breakdown, and especially against clostridium which causes botulism – one of the worst forms of food poisoning you can get.”
Albrecht adds that sodium nitrite keeps meat thick and pink. “You don’t have to do a clinical study to find out if a housewife walks into a supermarket, she’s going to leave the grey meat behind.”
Pink and germ-free sound like how most people like their meat, but there are two sides to this loin.
“Sodium nitrite reacts to the amino acids in your stomach to form nitrosamines which are carcinogens that are known to form stomach cancer and intestinal cancer,” says Albrecht.
Albrecht says an effective way of blocking this reaction is to drink orange juice after eating meat. “The vitamin C in the orange juice blocks the process of connection.”
An even more effective way of blocking this reaction it is by not eating meats with sulfites in them. And this where your butcher comes in. Because, let’s face it, the meat that’s best for you is the kind with least interference post- and pre-slaughter – the sort that was mooing or clucking a few blade slices ago.