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Monday, December 15, 2008

SCIENCE! Says: A new feature!

Here at the Periodic Elements of Style, we've decided to gift you all with an early holiday season present: a new blog feature! It's called, "SCIENCE! Says"; in which we answer your questions and hand out free advice, all based on what we know from...you guessed it...SCIENCE! Because really, if SCIENCE! didn't know what was up, where would we be?

Question: I am a proud, card-carrying carnivore. What with this recent "economic downturn," I'm hearing more and more that our dietary habits are going to have to change. Anthony Bourdain, Time Magazine, and my grandmother all say I should start eating offal, because it's cheap/delicious. What do you think? Are animal organs better than chunks of charred muscle?

SCIENCE! Says: Don't switch to eating organ meats exclusively, cheap though they may be. The reason you see offal fans come out of the woodwork in lean times is the relative low, low price butchers and mass-market meat producers ask for those less-desirable cuts of meat. Today, most Mega-Mart butchers won't even have offal out in their refrigerated display cases. In anthropological terms, as we industrialized, American culture cultivated a high premium for cuts of meat further away from the potentially bacteria- and parasite-laden internal organ system of livestock. The richer you are, the better cuts of meat you can afford, thus your grocery list becomes a symbol of your economic and nutritional health. That has perversely reversed itself in the past few years as the Yuppification of America continues, and self-branded "gourmands" turn to offal for a rush of culinary adventure.

You may not be able to afford to eat t-bone steaks and pork chops every day now, but a good dose of properly cooked liver'n'onions never killed anybody. Just remember that organs like the liver, kidneys, and various glands in animals function the same as in humans--they filter out toxins. In sick animals as in humans, toxins and nasties can accumulate in the organs and lymphatic system. You can avoid over-exposure to toxins by avoiding those organs in general. Some types of offal do contain higher amounts of nutrients like potassium, but check out how much more cholesterol a 4oz serving of beef brains has compared to regular lean ground beef! (751% of your daily value versus 29%, that's seven and a half TIMES your daily allotted amount of cholesterol!)

If you're talking about calves' brains and oxtail, I will point you to the risk of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, aka "Mad Cow," a prion disease that emerged a decade ago in Europe to the great consternation and near-ruin of the livestock industry. Avoid mystery meats if you can because of this--cheap sausage, ground meats with abnormal coloring, and products like SPAM contain the odds and ends, including ground-up bone, of animals you should really stay away from.

It may save your wallet a couple of pennies, but you could prevent serious health problems by sticking to what you know. Anthony Bourdain may have survived decades of drinking, smoking, and offal, but remember: he gets paid to eat it.

Note: If you would like to have a question answered in SCIENCE! Says, please e-mail us at periodicstyle [AT] gmail [DOT] com. We love a challenge, so bring it on!


Monique said...

I never even considered that I may have to change my eating habits because of the economy. At most I was anticipating eating less meat in favor of other proteins.

Jeanne said...

I know I eat less meat overall when I'm cooking for just myself. I don't like dealing with raw meat anyway, and I don't think I'd be comfortable handling/preparing organs either.

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