( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The term meat includes the flesh of animals used for food. In this country the meats in ordinary use are : beef and veal, obtained from cattle; pork, the flesh of the hog; mutton, obtained from sheep ; fish ; and poultry, which includes chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, the guinea fowl, and young pigeons, or squabs. Another meat is game, which is the flesh of wild animals and fowls, such as venison (the flesh of the deer), the rabbit, squirrel, quail, dove, plover, duck, and turkey.
Our principal meat supply comes from the West and South-west, and from Mexico and South America. As the country becomes more thickly settled the large cattle ranches are being turned into farms. This will eventually make the price of meat much higher, unless the farmers find some way of growing a cheaper food for cattle.
STRUCTURE OF MEAT
Upon examining a cut of meat, we find that it is made up of bone, fat, and lean meat or muscle. Have a shin bone sawed at its widest part near the joint. Note where it is spongy, and where hard. Note the fat, which in bones is called marrow, and also notice the tiny blood vessels. Bones are half water and of the other half two-thirds is mineral, chiefly lime, and one-third is animal substance known as cartilage. Bones are fastened together by thin, tough membranes, known as ligaments. Some of the animal tissue in bones is dissolved by heat and moisture.
By looking closely at some of the coarser cuts of raw meat one can distinguish the cord-like fibers. After boiling, these long stringy fibers can be torn apart. Under the microscope they will be found to be made up of tiny tubes, known as muscle fibers. These are of varying lengths, depending on the cut and the animal. In the breast of the chicken they are short, while in the coarser cuts of beef they are long. (In carving cut across the length of the fiber.) The walls of the tubes are made of an albuminoid substance. These tubes contain the muscle juice, which is water, that has dissolved in it proteins, minerals, and the substances which give flavor. When the tubes are cut the juice escapes and much valuable material is lost. Bundles of the tubes are held together by collagen, a substance which yields gelatin upon being boiled. This substance may be seen in soup meat that has been gently cooked till tender.
Exercise makes these connective tissues thicker; therefore the flesh is tougher in the parts that are much used.
Why is loin more tender than round? How does the wing of chicken compare with that of a bird in tenderness
In the connective tissues between the meat fibers there is fat. Note the structure and appearance of fat in different cuts and animals, the quantity varying according to the animal and the part of the body. In chicken breast there is little fat, in the leg a greater proportion ; young chickens have less than old, while in swimming birds there is a large quantity to give lightness and to keep them warm. Pork has more fat in its fibers than beef has. In some animals there is a large quantity of fat apart from the flesh ; this is noticeable in pork, beef, and mutton.
COMPOSITION OF MEAT
Meats are proteins or tissue building foods, but contain also fats, mineral salts, and much water. (Note composition of different meats in table.) Phosphoric acid and potash are among the most valuable of the minerals.
Gelatin. Gelatin is made from the bones and connective tissues. It belongs to the nitrogenous group of foods, but is not a tissue builder as are the true proteins. Because of the gelatin contained, soup stocks and gravies become firm when cooled.
The Extractives. The juice of meat contains substances that give flavor, known as extractives. They are not considered nourishing, but stimulate the digestion. Soup meat is tasteless because the extractives have been dissolved in the soup.
USE AND DIGESTIBILITY OF MEAT
Meat is very important in the diet because it gives building material from which we can make new body tissue for growth and repair. (Name other foods rich in protein.) Owing to the poisons that may be left in the body, however, in the process of digestion we must not use too much meat.
Rheumatism and some other diseases are believed to come from an excessive use of meat.
Except when the stomach juices are weakened by disease, meat is easily digested, although the coarseness of the meat fibers, the amount of fat, and the method of cooking all affect the ease with which it is digested. A person with a delicate digestion might eat a tender broiled mutton chop from which the fat had been removed before cooking and feel no ill effects, while stewed mutton from a coarse cut rich in fat might cause acute gastric disturbances. Tender breast of chicken could be eaten by the invalid but the coarse fibered, strong flavored leg might cause much internal trouble.
Veal is dense in structure, and on account of its softness is swallowed before it is thoroughly masticated. For this reason it should not be eaten by children and invalids.
Pork is more difficult of digestion than most other meats because of its fat. Bacon fat is easily digested, although very salty bacon, and especially that which is treated with chemicals, is not digestible. Fish is not so easy to digest as beef, ranking with veal and mutton in this respect.
The liver, kidneys, and heart of animals, even when care-fully prepared, are not so easily digested as the cuts from the flesh.
The sweetbread, as it is called, one of the digestive glands, is tender and of delicate flavor, but is believed to contain sub-stances that are harmful to those of rheumatic tendencies. Canned, dried, salt, and smoked meats are not as easy to digest as fresh meats. Meat leaves little waste in the intestines, and so does not stimulate peristaltic movement; for this reason we eat with it coarse foods rich in cellulose, such as green vegetables.
THE PRESERVATION OF MEAT
Meat spoils or decomposes very quickly unless kept at a low temperature, dried, salted, treated with preservatives, or canned. All of these processes check the growth of bacteria or destroy them.
Cold does not destroy bacteria, but retards their growth. When the temperature is raised, the bacteria become active and the meat spoils quickly. If meat taken from cold storage is to be kept for more than a few hours, it must be placed in a very cold ice-box. The dish containing meat may be placed directly on the ice, and thus cared for the meat will keep a little longer than it will in the body of the box. If meat is to be kept several days, put it into an earthen jar which has been placed in a bucket of ice and salt. Thoroughly chill it, then repack in ice and cover closely. The jar needs repacking morning and night.
Bacteria may be destroyed by drying, a method much used for preserving meat in dry countries where ice is not avail-able. The jerked or dried beef of the southwest is an example. Salt and smoke also destroy bacteria. Salt pork, ham, and breakfast bacon are so preserved.
Chemical preservatives are sometimes used on meat, but meat so treated is not healthful. (See the Pure Food Law.) Salt-peter, a chemical, is used to deepen the color of meat, but such chemicals are injurious.
Canning is another method of preserving meat, but canned meats are not usually made from the choicest animals. They are seldom cheaper than fresh meats, and are more difficult to digest.
Care of Meat. Meats must be protected from dust and insects. If meat is hung where there are flies, it should be placed in a thin cotton bag. Fresh beef may be kept without salt for two weeks in cold weather, and even in summer it will keep for several days in a good ice-box. What method do you use for the preservation 'of meat in your home?
Ptomaines. Unless meat is preserved by some of the methods given above, it decomposes or spoils very quickly. It is then a dangerous food because of the poisons formed. The poisons produced in decomposing animal proteins such as meat, milk, and eggs are known as ptomaines. They are very deadly, and may cause death in a few hours. Even a slight attack leaves the system badly deranged. This poison forms quickly in fish and oysters and therefore one should be careful not to eat these unless they are fresh. Canned meats are sometimes a source of ptomaine poisoning.
Fresh meat can be easily distinguished from that which is even slightly tainted by the odor. Fresh oysters and fish have a very different odor from that of stale oysters or fish. It is not easy to detect decomposition in cooked meat, so that it is well to buy only uncooked meats in hot weather.
Cool all meats and soups as soon as they are done. Then keep them in a cool place. Never leave meats in a fireless cooker or in a warm oven after they are done. Do not keep cooked meats too long.
THE PURE FOOD LAWS REGARDING MEAT
The pure food laws prohibit the selling of the flesh of diseased animals, and of food that contains dirt or injurious preservatives. The enforcement of this law depends on the public. Do not patronize a dealer who infringes the law. If there were a rigid enforcement of the law, meat could not be transported through the streets uncovered, nor could it be exposed to flies, as it is in many shops. Cooked meats are often left open to flies and dust and are even cut on the uncleared blocks that have been used for raw meats. Is this in accordance with the law?
A very common infringement of the law is the use of mineral preservatives in the form of powder sprinkled on meat. An-other infringement is the use of coloring for sausage and other products, liquid blood being used to give a fresh look to old meats, while a brownish coal tar color is sometimes used. Sausage is frequently adulterated by the addition of bread crumbs, flour, and waste meat products, such as gristle.
QUESTIONS AND PROBLEMS
Study the reports of the Pure Food Commissioner and other state food regulations, and patronize those shops that are the cleanest and the most law abiding. Name some meat and meat products that lend themselves easily to adulteration. Carefully inspect your meat shop. Does it fulfill the conditions of the law? How could it be improved? Write a list of the important requirements of a sanitary meat shop. Note provision for excluding flies and dust. Note temperature; odors; method of caring for cooked meat. Also note cleanliness of those who handle the meat. Does your pure food law forbid the sale of meat from tubercular cattle?
FOOD VALUE AND COST COMPARED
Meat, as we have seen, is one of the chief sources of protein or building materials. What are the other sources of protein? In considering the cost of meat compared- with its food value the available protein is the basis of comparison, although the fat, also, is of high food value and must be considered.
Compare the per cent of protein of the different meats in the table on page 147. Compare the waste. Make a list giving price per pound of the cuts commonly used in your household. How do they compare in cost and food value?
In selecting meat one must consider: (1) the taste of the family with regard to kind and cut; (2) the cost, being sure to note carefully the amount of waste, such as bone, rind, and tough fiber, unclean pieces that must be discarded, or fat that cannot be used; (3) the fuel that will be required in cooking; (4) time and labor required for preparation.
The number of individuals in a family influences one in the choice of cuts and the method of cooking. Steaks for broiling should be comparatively thick ; therefore, if the family is small a sirloin steak is too large unless only half of it is cooked at a time. A porterhouse, club, or Delmonico steak might be selected, for while the long thin end of the last is not available for broiling it may be utilized for stew or meat pie. A large roast may be used if carefully reheated in various forms.
In addition to the cut, there are certain standards of quality to be observed. The meat from fat animals is of higher food value and of better flavor than that from thin animals, as the per cent of water is lower. If a cut of meat is excessively fat, there is, of course, a waste, but meat must be from a comparatively fat animal to be of the best quality. A cut from the round of the best beef is better than the choicest cuts of inferior animals. The flesh of young animals, such as veal and lamb, has a smaller per cent of fat than that of the more mature animals, so the standard that applies to the latter cannot be used for them.
Good meat is odorless except for a certain fleshy smell, not tainted, strong, or musty. Meat must be dry on the surface—thick, plump, and firm, but not hard to the touch or coarse in fiber; it should feel like velvet and should be easy to cut with a sharp knife. Frozen meat becomes soft and slimy unless carefully thawed and cooked promptly. The bones of old animals are white and hard; of young ones, reddish and soft. Good meat should be well marbled with fat; roasts and chops from mature animals should have a layer of fat on the outside from one-fourth to one-half inch thick.
Meats vary in color, fat, etc., according to their kind, so that in addition to these general rules for selection we must know the qualities of each variety.
Beef. Good beef is a rich bluish red when first cut, but grows brighter as it stands, becoming a bright cherry or a pale red within a short time after cutting. Very bright red beef may have been colored. Very dark, strong, coarse fibered beef with yellow fat is usually from old animals, and is not of good quality. A layer of straw-colored fat extends over the ribs and loin in good meat. The kidney fat should be white and crumbly.
Veal. Meat from calves is known as veal. Good veal is of a dull pink color; if very young, it is a light, bluish pink. It is softer than beef, and decomposes more rapidly, and so cannot be kept long.
Mutton. Mutton is a dull brick red, almost pink, with white fat, and like beef should be firm and dry. The bones are white. Almost any cut of good mutton is palatable if well cooked, but poor mutton cannot be made appetizing by the most skillful cooking.
Lamb. The flesh of young sheep is known as lamb, and ranges from a light pink to a grayish red. The bones are pink.
Pork. The pig, the flesh of which is known as pork, is more subject to disease than the sheep or the cow, so that its flesh is not so desirable for food. If pork is used, it should be carefully selected and well cooked. Pork from hogs kept in pastures and fed clean food is not apt to be diseased.
On account of its eating habits the hog is more often a carrier of parasites than are the grain eating animals. Some hogs are infested with a parasite commonly known as trichina. This parasite may enter the human system in raw or underdone pork, and may cause great suffering and even death. The only certain way of avoiding danger is by cooking all pork products thoroughly. Fortunately the per cent of infected hogs in this country is small.
The lean of good pork is pink and the fat is white. The meat of the medium-sized hog is more delicate in flavor than that of the heavy animal. For home use on the farm, hogs not more than one year old should be selected. Pork that is dull in color, with yellow spots scattered through the fat and lean is diseased. Liver, kidneys, and lungs of hogs are apt to be diseased. Ham and bacon are prepared from pork. Unsmoked bacon, known as salt pork, is much used for seasoning.