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Mystery Meat

"Once it's in the soup, I call it beef."
Greasy Sae, The Hunger Games

Food of unknown composition. Like sausages, which is all the parts of meat they don't put in dog food.

Most of this comes from a largely cultural misconception of food and people who have little to do in preparing their own meals, especially anything that doesn't look like its origin. It's also much easier to demonize foods that rationalize an irresponsible diet. Thus you have certain kinds of food everyone hates in any form.

Scares from the early 20th century aside, cheap sausage is generally made of chunked pork or other meat, some offal and other things wrapped in intestine and loaded with salt. This is unhealthy in large quantities, but there's nothing inherently toxic about it. TV has you believe that hot dogs are Mystery Meat.

Meatloaf is another scary food, which ignores the entire point of adding filler to it to stretch a beef budget and not to cover up bad cooking. Meatloaf is always portrayed as some horrific dried-out swamp log, although this is largely true of any improperly baked food.

Another common accusation leveled at such foods is that they're made from creatures not traditionally considered edible — "vermin" like rats and pigeons, or at the other end of the sympathy scale domestic animals like cats and dogs. Stray cats and dogs are a favourite as they manage to violate both of these taboos at once. There's a lot of Cross Cultural Kerfuffle involved in this, which is great fodder for Foreign Queasine. If someone does find out what it is, expect "I Ate What?" as a response.

Interestingly, this can even apply to the Mascot or Non-Human Sidekick of a character, as if assorted organ meats and rind aren't something animals quickly gobble up in the real world. Even the Rats Won't Touch It.

This is a favorite of almost any Western show, cartoon, or movie involving elementary through high school. In fact, it's a rarity if one of these doesn't play the poor quality of school lunches as a gag. In reality, most schools (in America at least) not only have to conform to health and safety guidelines that mean the food's at least somewhat on the healthy side (not just survivable), but the schools actually hope to make money from their cafeteria and thus have to make it a more attractive proposition than bringing your lunch, but then again the nature of the greasy and fatty food sometimes served in cafeterias justifies this (before Supersize Me, several cafeterias would only aim to satisfy the taste buds of the students and not their health). This trope seems to be almost nonexistent in anime, where the school cafeteria is often portrayed as having one or more products that are so good that students have to be fast on their feet if they want to get one before they sell out.

It may or may not taste like feet, just don't think about what it's made of if it does. Sometimes the food is so disgusting that Even the Rats Won't Touch It.

Apparently, though, it's Truth in Television...

Now, if you happen to wonder about The Secret of Long Pork Pies...


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the first episode of Haiyore! Nyarko-san, Nyarko serves Mahiro a lunch box she made for him. He likes it, but remarks that the meat doesn't taste like fried chicken and asks what it is. Her only response is a Not-So-Innocent Whistle, and when he threatens to puke it back up all she's willing to say is it's not dangerous to humans. For the rest of the series Nyarko is a bit more open about her meals, changing this trope out for Alien Lunch (but Mahiro still refuses to eat anything that doesn't come from Earth).
  • In Kill la Kill, Mako's mother makes croquettes that are considered absolutely delicious by everyone who eats them, yet she often notes that you don't want to know what she makes them out of.

    Comic Books 
  • In a comic of Disney's former TV series, Teacher's Pet, where a dog named Spot dresses up as a student and attends his owner's classroom so he can spend more time with him. In the comic, Leonard (his owner), in a hurry, accidentally feeds Spot a can of corned beef hash instead of his regular dogfood. Later, dressed as "Scott" in the School cafeteria, Spot finds out the mystery meat tastes just like his dogfood and concludes that the school is putting dogfood in their recipes, which starts a school riot. During a talk-in with the principal, the principal demands to know whether Spot has actually eaten dog food before. Fearing this could blow his cover, Spot agrees with the principal to eat a large plate of their mystery meat and confirm to the students it's dogfood free. Much to the Principal and lunchlady's surprise, Spot ends up enjoying the experience (he's a dog after all). Overall, most of the cafeteria's recipes are made of turkey.
  • One issue of Marvel Comics G.I. Joe series had a group of Joe recruits being put through deliberately harsh training to see who cracked. Lunch was "mystery meat on a shingle". One disgusted recruit asks "How do they get it so grey?".

    Fan Fiction 

    Film 
  • Soylent Green is people.
  • Bill Murray in Meatballs:
    "Attention. Here's an update on tonight's dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal. The winner of tonight's mystery meat contest is Jeffrey Corbin who guessed 'some kind of beef'."
  • There's a short scene in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey where Shadow and Chance (two dogs) discuss what they think hot dogs are made of. Chance doubts that they're made of dog, while Shadow doubts that they're even made of meat. Both agree that they taste the best when they fall in the dirt.
  • Eating Raoul. Though the dish is definitely not French. More...Spanish.

    Literature 
  • C.M.O.T. Dibbler's sausages and meat pies in the Discworld novels. They're not bad, technically. They have no taste.
    • "Curry with meat 10p. Curry with named meat 15p".
    • "Yep, made with 100% real pig." "Don't you mean 'pork'?" "Manner of speaking. Definitely pig."
    • Subverted by Dibbler's Ecksian counterpart in The Last Continent:
      Rincewind: What are they made from? Cat?
      Fair Go Dibbler: D'you mind? Mutton's cheaper than cat.
    • Parodied in Feet of Clay, when a dwarf deli tries to pass steak and chicken off as rat, a dwarven delicacy.
    • In Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, the section on etiquette with trolls mentions that the silicatious lifeforms have one word that means "animals" and one word that means "vegetation", which makes preparing meals for human or dwarfish friends a somewhat chancy affair.
    "What I'm delicately alludin' to here is that you'll get something organic, and probably heated. After that, you're on your own."
  • Wayside School had a lunch lady that can cook very well - if she's only cooking for one or two, but the more food she cooks, the worse it tastes. It's said that she cooks 500 meals, and only two students at a time are willing to eat it, and half of those that eat it go home sick. Mystery Meat is only part of the dishes she serves.
    • Notably, as bad as it tastes, it can cause a person to spontaneously kiss someone and leave them with no memory of the act.
  • This is a staple of the Stoneybrook Middle School's cafeteria in The Babysitters Club.
  • The trope is mentioned by name in Winds of Fury at a carnival, with the recommended cure for the inevitable stomachache being the snake oil sold by the medicine man in the next booth over (which was brandy with some medicinal herbs in it). The disturbing thing was that conditions in Hardorn were so bad that the mystery meat was actually an improvement over what some people had been eating.
  • In the Dave Barry novel Tricky Business, the band of the cruise ship suspects that the cook is just reheating the same food over and over again rather than actually cooking anything. So they test the theory by hiding a laminated baseball card in one of the buffet trays, then coming back every day afterwords to see if the card was still there. When the events of the story begin, the baseball card had been a part of the generally untouched buffet for a week.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the less fortunate residents of King's Landing know better than to ask about the meat they find in their bowls of brown.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, it shows up in the Orcs' military rations. Given the Orcs' conversation, there's a non-zero chance that it was once a person or another orc.
    He was famished but not yet so famished as to eat flesh flung to him by an Orc, the flesh of he dared not guess what creature.
  • The main character in Richard Powell's Don Quixote, U.S.A. made a stew of mussels, mullet and queen conch for a bunch of starving South American revolutionaries. Fearing their reaction if they found out they'd been eating seafood, he told one man who asked what the meat was the scientific name for queen conch. The questioner replied that it was "some kind of big rat, no doubt" and that he'd never had rat prepared so well.
  • In The Pickwick Papers, Sam Weller, to Mr Pickwick's horror, comments that "Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain't kittens". Apparently, Sam once knew a pieman who kept a lot of cats, but when Sam commented that he must be fond of cats, the pieman replied "Other people is".

    Live Action TV 
  • Divorce Court: In the 1980s version, the wife is accused of – among many other things – cooking her husband and his boorish friends chili for the big game with some special meat. Only afterward does she reveal it was dog food.
  • Family Matters: In "The Big Fix," Urkel is seen eagerly gobbling what Laura thinks are chicken wings. The nerd corrects her: They're frog's legs!
  • Game Shows:
    • Jeopardy!: Early in the 1997-1998 season, there was a category "It Takes Like Chicken," where contestants had to identify unusual types of meat, such as those from snakes, frogs and alligators.
  • Mockolate on Friends. Monica is asked to come up with recipes for it while the company awaits FDA approval. (It doesn't) And the taste?
    Phoebe: Oh, sweet lord! This is what evil must taste like!
    • The first red flag is that real chocolate doesn't crumble when handled.
    • The same company also makes Fishtachios, which is exactly what it sounds like.
      • And should be avoided by people who are allergic to cat hair.
  • Nickelodeon sketch show Welcome Freshmen, being about high school life, naturally covered this one, which included a glam rock song called, you guessed it, "Mystery Meat".
  • Even Stargate SG-1 has done a gag on this. From an early episode:
    Daniel: This Tastes Like Chicken.
    Sam: So? What's wrong with it?
    Daniel: It's macaroni and cheese!
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had an episode where the cafeteria lady was dumping rat poison into the dessert. In another episode (Season 6), Buffy starts working at the "Doublemeat Palace" and finds a human finger in the meat grinder. This ends up being a bait-and-switch: the finger was there because a demon killed someone, but the meat was more mundane. Except that it wasn't meat at all - it was veggieburger flavored with beef and chicken fat. Fattening cardboard. Charming.
  • Played for black laughs in The League of Gentlemen, in which the local butcher of Royston Vasey has a special meat available for a list of select customers. The meat is highly addictive and of highly suspicious provenance and, in the second series, apparently causes death via fatal nosebleeding. Word of God, however, states that it's not human flesh. It's far, far worse.
  • It is occasionally mentioned that one shouldn't inquire too closely as to what some restaurants on Babylon 5 call 'beef' actually is.
  • SCTV - kiddie show hosts Mrs. Falbo and Mr. Messenger do a show in the state penitentiary. At lunch, Falbo asks the guy serving chow "Do you have anything besides beef stew? I'm allergic to beef." He replies "Don't worry, lady, there ain't any beef in it!" Mr. Messenger says "I'll have lots, please!"
  • Howard of Fresh Meat works at an abattoir and occasionally brings home... perks.
    JP: [looking askance at a clear plastic bag full of bloody chunks] What's that?
    Howard: It's spare meat. From the loose meat bin. Don't worry, there's some animals in that.
    JP: Yes, but... which?
    Howard: Hark at the gourmand.
  • Yes, Minister has the Euro-sausage standardisation incident in the Christmas special "Party Games". British sausages contain too high a proportion of rusk, and the "meat" they contain is (accurately described, at least for cheaper suppliers) unpalatable abbatoir waste and scraps, so the EU attempts a ban; the resulting political hubbub gives Jim an opportunity to raise his profile and take advantage of an unrelated political crisis to become PM.

    Music 
  • The old song "Dunderbeck" about the titular Fat Old Dutchman.
    Oh Dunderbeck, oh Dunderbeck, how could you be so mean?
    I'm sorry you invented the terrible machine!
    Now all the cats and all the rats will nevermore be seen,
    For they've all been ground to sausage meat in Dunderbeck's machine.
  • Superfast Jellyfish off Gorillaz' Plastic Beach album
  • Eric Bogle's "The Great Aussie Takeaway".
  • "(There's A) Cat In the Kettle" by Bob Rivers, a parody of "Cat in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin.
  • A parody of "Silver Threads Among the Gold":
    When the dog died, we had hot dogs
    When the cat died, catnip tea
    When the landlord died, I left there
    Spare ribs were too much for me

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Pretty much any scene set in the high school lunchroom in FoxTrot is guaranteed to reference this trope.
    • Often exaggerated. One example is:
    Paige: Wasn't today's dish supposed to be pasta with white sauce?
    Lunch Lady: Change of plans. We're serving pasta with red sauce today since Diane (another lunch lady) had a little accident with the meat cutter.
    Later...
    Nicole: Did you have that pasta today? It had an odd metallic taste...
    • Also referenced at the summer camp attended by Jason and Marcus. The camp serves burritos one night, which the boys consider a major treat. Marcus notes over dinner that, "Tomorrow night's menu just says 'grub'."
  • Garfield has occasionally crossed paths with some Mystery Meat when Jon goes too long without cleaning the refrigerator. Once he had to flee for safety because the Mystery Meat had crawled out of the tinfoil and tried to attack him.

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • World of Warcraft uses Mystery Meat as the ingredient in several Cooking recipes. It comes from all manners of beasts as well, even including giant scorpions.
    • The most recent expansion has something similar, Chilled Meat, that is Northrend's version of Mystery Meat. Apparently, due to the conditions of the northern continent, it comes already refrigerated once you're done butchering.
    • The Cataclysm expansion gives us the Unidentifiable Meat Dish, the description of which reads: "Somehow even more sinister than Mystery Meat." And this time, we don't know what's in it, but the fact that it can only be bought from vendors belonging to the local insane Apocalypse Cult does not bode particularly well.
  • In Fallout 3 you might come across "Strange Meat". You might not want to eat that. It's human flesh.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas however, Strange Meat and Human Flesh are different items. Disturbingly enough, Strange Meat (and Strange Meat Pie) is actually a fairly commonly-found food item.
  • The Meat Seller in Quest for Glory III sells mystery meat as rations.
  • "Weird meat" in Avernum comes from a variety of sources, of which the least disturbing is giant lizards used as livestock. At least one example (Garzahd's "pantry") is apparently humanoid in origin, maybe even human. However, all of it can be eaten without harm.
  • One student in Mana Khemia claims that the roast served in the cafeteria of Al-Revis is dried Puni.
  • The food served in the cafeteria at Sorcerer's University in the Spellcasting 101 series is notoriously inedible on any day when parents aren't visiting (The students learn cooking spells in their freshman year and use that to make their own food instead of eating there). The casserole served in the second game is used as a source of firefly larva (which is apparently part of the recipe), and squirrel vomit (produced when you to try to feed the casserole to the squirrel).
  • In Are We There Yet? the diary entry for the Sowsbury 500 Pig Races stated that "The next day Mom made sandwiches from this canned mystery meat that I think was the mortal remains of one of the losers."

    Webcomics 
  • Lampshaded in this Loserz strip.
  • In Drow Tales, after reaching topside and making camp, the crew decides to dine on meat of unknown origin. Kyo'nne teases human slave Vaelia by suggesting that the meat she's snacking on might indeed be human.
  • In Brawl in the Family, Kirby ate a hot dog and transformed into this.
  • Sometimes, as in Schlock Mercenary, you really wouldn't want to know what the mystery meat is.
  • One arc in Sluggy Freelance involved burgers made from ground demon (After Bun-Bun dropped the demon into the meat grinder).
  • In Sturgeon's Law, the eponymous law firm has a division that produces the Sturgeon Farms Extruded-Slurry Meat Brick: So warm, so dank, so delicious.
  • Johanna from Sire is an enthusiastic chef for the lineage children at the London haven. She is descended from Mrs. Lovett. and the subject of her ingredients is one that causes characters concern.

    Web Original 
  • In the Burgrr.com Terms and Conditions ARG, this is the sort of stuff that the creepy restaurants behind the green doors are serving, and by all acc. So why are all the people clamoring for it? And why is it replacing all the other products on grocery shelves? If you're guessing a conspiracy by nightmarish beings from some undefinable otherplace involving brainwashing, brain parasites and consumerism, then you're correct!

    Western Animation 
  • Frequently served at Middleton High's cafeteria in Kim Possible, to the disgust of the students. One episode had Kim and her class forced to watch a video saying what exactly went into Mystery Meat; the class ran out screaming and wanting to vomit.
    • In another episode, Mr. Barkin is filling in for yet another absent teacher who "made a mistake many first-year teachers make — she ate the cafeteria meatloaf". The class reacts with horror.
    • In another episode, Wade analyzed the gravy that a ghost actually Sensei's astral projection used to write a message to Ron on the cafeteria wall. Wade told Kim and Monique that they did not want to know what's in it until they graduate. From college.
  • In one episode of Tiny Toons, Babs Bunny enters a normally crowded school cafeteria, which is now empty. She handwaves this to herself with the phrase "Hmm. Must be serving mystery meat today".
    • Also according to Montana Max, the airplane food served to Buster and Babs hasn't been classified by science yet.
  • In Doug, Magic Mystery Meat was served to unwilling students. In a subversion of the trope, in one episode Doug was being overly nostalgic, and went so far as to believe that Magic Mystery Meat was not only edible, but tasty as well.
  • The Simpsons has the cafeteria lady grabbing something from a barrel that says something like "Grade F Organ Meat".
    • That was due to budget cuts in a Treehouse Of Horror (Nightmare Cafeteria). Grade F meat was labelled as "Mostly circus animals, some filler."
    • Also done in "Lisa The Vegetarian", when she was imagining all the animal parts involved in making the dinner on her plate - the sheep part for the lamb chop, the chicken part in the chicken breast, and the rat tail, raccoon foot, pigeon head and part of a boot in the hot dog.
      • In the same episode, there's this exchange as Lisa searches for a vegetarian option during lunch:
    Lisa: "Doesn't this school serve anything that doesn't contain meat?"
    Lunchlady: "Possibly the meatloaf."
    • In "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Basasssssss Song", Lunchlady Doris gets her ingredients from a barrel labelled "Assorted Horse Parts - Now With More Testicles" ("More testicles mean more iron!"). And in The PTA Disbands, she's pushing gym mats into a meat grinder, while Principal Skinner insists that shredded newspaper provides "much needed roughage and essential inks".
      Lunchlady Doris: There's very little meat in these gym mats!
    • When Krusty Burger created the Ribwich, it created hordes of devotees who followed it around to selected restaurants like Grateful Dead fans (including Homer of course). Krusty has to announce that they had to stop making it since the animal they used was driven extinct.
    Homer: Cows? Pigs?
    Krusty: Think smaller, with more legs.
    • Frequent offender Lunch Lady Dorris gets another one preparing the Valentine Day Heart special. Which was actual beef hearts, one of them visibly still beating. (hey, beating means it's still fresh!)
    Delivery man: Where do you want them?
    Dorris: Right here.
    Delivery man: On the floor?
    Dorris: I don't tell you how to do your job!
    *Delivery man unloads the hearts, which stick in a congealed clump inside the truck a few seconds before plopping out*
    • One episode had a variation. The milk Fat Tony provided to Springfield Elementary turns out to be from rats. Upon finding out, Mayor Quimby is outraged... because Fat Tony promised him "dog or higher."
  • Johnny Test - Johnny's dad's horrible meat loaf recipes. Doesn't just serve meatloaf by itself, he also serves it in burritos, tacos, etc. Every proclamation of Mr. Test's meatloaf for dinner is met with screams of horror from his family.
    • One episode hints that there isn't anything in there that can be remotely called meat. He doesn't seem to try and hide that either.
  • On the episode of Phineas and Ferb where they build a truck stop, Ferb can be seen scooping out ingredients from a large can labeled "assorted mammal chunks."
  • An episode of Moville Mysteries was about the local Conspiracy Theorist dragging Mo into investigating what the deal is with the new Mystery Meat at the cafeteria. Since it's really tasty, everyone keeps buying it and it glows in the dark. After hinting that it's of extraterrestrial origin, they find out it's actually made of tofu, which causes everyone to hate it because is healthy and the makers of the meat break their deal with the cafeteria. Then when asked why the meat glowed in the dark, it's revealed the lunch lady didn't know it did that. A final shot reveals the meat makers were aliens after all.
  • Arthur subverts it since the food is not only edible, but healthy and delicious. It is played straight in the episode where Mrs. McGrady has cancer and her nephew takes over and makes that's not only inedible but none of the kids can figure out what the dishes are.
  • Gramma Stuffum from Kids Next Door served up these type of dishes whenever she's the villain. Most notable in Operation: F.O.O.D.F.I.T.E. where she works in Sector V's school cafeteria.
  • In Disney's Teacher's Pet, the plot of one episode is kicked off when the main character, a dog masquerading as a human student, identifies the mystery meat as being the same stuff served to him that morning for breakfast — dog food. He's unwittingly blackmailed into recanting his revelation, though.

    Real Life 
  • African "Bushmeat." Whatever it is, its probably endangered.
  • When R.W.Wood note  was a student, tenants in boarding house where he lodged suspected that landlady used leftovers of yesterday's steaks for today's hash, as the former was usually followed by the latter. So he left big scraps, generously peppered with lithium chloride (which resembles normal salt in most respects and is used in fireworks to make red flames). Sure enough, next morning he got some hash — and solemnly cremated it before the spectroscope. After all, a red lithium line is something you normally see in stars, but not in burning food.
  • Jamie Oliver has given a demonstration a number of times where he prepares low-grade (read: Metaphorically True version) chicken nuggets in front of audiences (recipe: Take one whole chicken, cut all the good parts off, puree what's left over in a blender, pour through a gravy strainer, add flour, salt and other fillers, bread and fry). With the mystery removed, nobody wanted Mystery Meat - except for the elementary-school kids in Huntington, West Virginia.
  • Finely-textured lean beef, known by some as "Pink Slime", used by many fast food chains such as McDonald's for hamburger filler. Somewhat similar to the chicken nuggets mentioned earlier, the process actually consists of taking the vaguely liquid-like parts that are not used (about 80% fat and 20% lean), and stripping all the fat out. There's a lot of controversy over the fact it's cleaned with ammonia hydroxide, though.
  • Anybody from Brazil that studies/has studied at a public university here, or has served time in the Brazilian military, will promptly tell you about his/her tales with "carne de monstro" ("monster meat") served at most university cafeterias/restaurants.
  • On an installment of No Reservations set in a backwoods joint somewhere in southeast Asia, the usually up for anything Anthony Bourdain was visibly nervous about meat from small animal. Tony's companion spoke very poor English and referred to it as "squeezil", causing Tony to have horrifying images of what it might be. Apparently, it's porcupine - after figuring it out, Tony was visibly relieved.
  • Similarly, on Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, Andrew finds himself eating a... "rodent" is probably as accurate as you're going to get.
  • Hot dogs and sausages that aren't marketed as "pure beef", those undesireable animal parts have to go somewhere.
    • Hot dog meat still qualifies as this trope even if it undeniably made of 100% beef. Just not the parts you'd care to eat.
      • Mostly beef hearts and kidneys, plus tough scraps from the chuck, round, and shank, minced fine. All fine and tasty bits by themselves.
  • If you live in a heavily Hispanic part of America, and a Hispanic lady goes door-to-door with fresh tamales for sale, buy the tamales. Eat the tamales. They are good tamales. Just never ask which parts of the pig the tamales are made from.
    • Tacos de lengua. Tripas. Barbacoa. Tacos de ojo. All very tasty dishes, and an authentic staple of northern Mexico. None of which are made from things that most Americans would voluntarily eat.
  • In 2013, a number of Irish supermarkets discovered that a some of their own brand beef burgers contained horse meat. Later, this was found to have spread to the rest of the EU.
    • In most European countries horse meat is not a big deal, in itself. The big deal was that cheaper meat was being sold under the name (and price) of more expensive meat, and its origin was questionable due to the false advertising. Even if you love horsemeat, you still want to see it labelled as such.
      • And considering that where it is eaten, horse meat is usually considered a delicacy and therefore comparably expensive meat, one probably should try not to think about where horse meat, which was cheap enough to make it financially worthwhile to dilute supermarket meat with it, originated from.
      • Of course, this varies from country to country. When it was discovered in Ireland, half the country was horrified. The other half made memes about it.
    • The meat had lost its documentation. At least some was traced to batches that were not approved for human consumption (ie could contain possibly dangerous veterinary drugs), or to falsified documentation. There was also a problem detected in the same checks with pork contaminating Halal and Kosher products.
  • Many people have interesting stories to tell about the dubious quality of something sold in the school cafeteria, though not all of them involve the 'meat'.


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