Each year, the McRib makes a brief visit to Earth. Its arrival elicits reactions ranging from horror to awe. And for good reason: this would-be rib sandwich is really a restructured pork patty pressed into the rough shape of a slab of ribs, its slathering of barbecue sauce acting as camouflage as much as coating.
“Pork” is a generous term, since the McRib has traditionally been fashioned from otherwise unmarketable pig parts like tripe, heart, and stomach, material that is not only cheap but also easier to mold and bind into a coherent, predetermined shape. McDonald’s accurately lists the patty’s primary ingredient as “boneless pork,” although even that’s a fairly strong euphemism. Presumably few of the restaurant’s patrons would line up for a Pressed McTripe.
Despite its abhorrence, the McRib bears remarkable similarity to another, more widely accepted McDonald’s product, the Chicken McNugget. In fact, the McRib was first introduced in 1982, shortly after the company had designed the McNugget. Chicken McNuggets are fashioned by the same method as is the McRib, namely by grinding factory-farmed chicken meat into a mash and then reconstituting them into a preservative-stabilized solid, aka a “nugget.” And both products are bound and preserved by a petrochemical preservative called tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ. According to the Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, one gram of TBHQ can cause “nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.” In a 2003 lawsuit accusing McDonald’s of consumer deception, federal district court judge Robert W. Sweet called Chicken McNuggets a “McFrankenstein creation.”
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