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 (these days) pigeons; domestic animals like cats and dogs; or, worse yet, stray cats and dogs, which are verminous and domestic at once. (Opinions vary as to what creatures are considered edible — sometimes even with the passage of time, as with pigeons no longer being edible in the US.) If someone finds out what they ate, expect I Ate WHAT?! as a response.
This trope even applies to Mascots and Non-Human Sidekicks more often than not: they'll be unwilling to eat organ meats, for example, even though in real life wolves and most other predators will go for organ meats first. Likewise, dogs will be averse to animal rinds/skins—again in sharp contrast with real life.
Any US show, cartoon, or movie which touches on elementary through high school can be expected to have at least one gag about this. Standards in educational institutions' food used to be quite low: strict health and safety guidelines were enforced, but flavor didn't matter, and what counted was just that it wouldn't kill you. These days, things are pretty good (school lunches are for-profit, so they try to be more palatable than bringing your own lunch; but they're also held to pretty strict dietary-health standards); but most content-creators came of age before these reforms, and old memories die hard, especially comical ones.
Anime will be just the opposite of this. Most animes that deal with schooling will portray school cafeterias with a quite high standard of food—and often at least one item so good that students have to race to get there before it sells out.
- 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...and then she tries to serve him pterodactyl, which leads to him further specifying modern Earth).
- In Kill la Kill, Mako's mother makes croquettes that are considered absolutely delicious according to everyone who eats them, yet she always tells everyone that you don't want to know what she makes them out of.
- In a comic of the Disney TV series Teacher's Pet, in which 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 dog food. Later, dressed as "Scott" in the School cafeteria, Spot finds out the mystery meat tastes just like his dog food and concludes that the school is putting dog food 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 dog food free. Much to the Principal and lunch lady'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?".
- In the Threeboot Legion of Super-Heroes, Karate Kid is dealing with the Fourth-Wall Mail Slot when Shadow Lass serves him a meal. He asks her what kind of meat it is, and she tells him to read the next letter. The next letter says, "Those goats in Brainy's lab were really cute. What happened to them?" After a Beat Panel, KK starts spluttering while Shady takes over.
- The Tintin album Tintin In America has a minor plot point that reveals that a mob-controlled corned beef producer actually uses dogs, cats and other street animals, both strays and kidnapped pets. They actually have quite an elaborate setup showing live cattle going into a machine, and finished produce coming out.
- 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.
Nicole: Did you have that pasta today? It had an odd metallic taste...
- In one strip they also offer a vegetarian alternative: Meatless Mystery.
- 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'."
- Paige is excited because the cafeteria reads S.T.E.A.K. one day. Which turned out to be Squid Tentacles, Eggplant, And Ketchup.
- Often exaggerated. One example is:
- 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.
- In Calvin and Hobbes, anything Calvin's mom cooks tends to come out looking like a plateful of green sludge. Calvin disdainfully calls it "toad stroganoff" in one Sunday Strip. However, in one strip, Calvin's mom tells him that it's "spider pie"; Calvin, being a Nightmare Fetishist, is persuaded to taste it again and actually approves, though his dad still doesn't want to try eating it. She tries the same trick in another strip, calling stuffed peppers "monkey heads."
- The mystery meat in The Lord of the Rings is not left un-riffed in the definitive E-Text:
He ate the sesame seed bun hungrily, but not the meat: he was famished, but not yet so famished as to eat a hamburger, the flesh of he dared not guess what creature.
- The aliens' mystery meat in Retro Chill is made of something so disgusting, the narrator refuses to describe what it is.
- Exit Materia:
Zach: I wouldn't do that if I were you, Spiky! You never know what's in the Mysterious Wednesday Stew, 'coz, you know, Kunsel says the Science Department gives the failed experiments to the cooks every Tuesday evening and that's why we get Mysterious Wednesday Stew, and I'm not sure I don't believe him, 'coz, yeah it's crazy absurd, but Kunsel always knows everything and besides, there was this time Genesis and Angeal came here to eat on a Wednesday for some reason or other and Genesis was suspicious of his food and thought it was moving and Angeal told him to stop being a drama queen but then the food did move, and Genesis kind of has the best reflexes ever and he stabbed it with a knife, like, instantly, and it gurgled - I swear it did - and then moaned as it wilted and I think it died, which means it was alive, and since it'd been cooked, you know, that really makes you wonder what it was, only I don't want to think too much of it because I'd already taken a bite, but anyway, I haven't dared eat the Mysterious Wednesday Stew since then and I don't think you should either!
Clarence: Lets pop down the pub, have a few drinks, catch a movie, have a few more drinks, and have kebab on the way home?
Clara: A kebab with meat of dubious origin that is at least thirty percent rat, carved from a rotating spit, served by a hirsute Muggle with no command of the English language but absolute command of eighteen eastern European languages, served with eight small pieces of lettuce from last weeks supermarket returns, and covered in a sauce that is almost completely made of garlic, gelatine and artificial flavourings?
- Mortem Cantor:
Harry glanced over the different choices, trying to decide which would be the least likely to taste like shit. He decided upon a salad, because it was the only thing he could recognise at a first glance. And at least it looked fresh (probably because it was completely untouched by everybody else; heaven forbid eating anything green) unlike the different selections of meat, none of which Harry could identify. He refused to touch any of that; it could be something gross, like road kill, and nobody would ever notice.
- 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.
- Jungle 2 Jungle has a short joke implying this trope about Central Park Hot Dogs when Mimi-Siku tells his city-bound father Michael that the hot dogs he's trying out tastes like his favorite food back in his tribal home, lizard guts. This causes some squeamish reactions from his father who promptly spits out the portion he is chewing on and dumps the rest of the hot dog.
- The French film L'Enquete Corse has a scene where the protagonist eats a Corsican dinner and compliments the chef, asking what the meat was (he says it tasted like veal, but better). A kid says it was rat and is shushed by another guest who reassures him: it's actually hedgehog.
- Mrs. Peacock's enjoyment of money brains, a mystery meat to the other diners, is a key to two of the solutions in Clue.
- One of the most memorable scenes in Demolition Man has Spartan buy a burger from a member of the Resistance, only for the other characters to point out that the Resistance dont exactly have space and resources to raise cattle underground, and that the meat in the burger is almost certainly rat. Spartan doesnt really mind, since it's the closest thing he's had to a decent meal since being unfrozen in the future.
- Dandelion Wine: Doug's grandma has a disorganized kitchen and pantry full of unlabeled ingredients scattered everywhere. She just grabs stuff at random and throws it all together. Because of this nobody knows exactly what each dish contains, but that doesn't matter because she makes the most legendary, mouth-watering meals anyone has ever tasted.
- 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". Once a character (probably Vimes) asks for a pie with named meat, and then adds when he says "named", he doesn't mean it should have been named Fido or Fluffy.
- "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.
- Inverted in The Fifth Elephant, when Vimes and Sybil sample Uberwald sausages for the first time. Vimes is shocked to find they're actually made of proper meat from appropriate farm animals, not the usual bread-filler, suet, and mysterious green flecks of an Ankh-Morpork "sausage".
- Since Dibbler is in charge of the movie studio in Moving Pictures, the studio's canteen offers really dodgy food. When a troll asks Victor "you're made of meat and what do you eat?" Victor replies "Good question."
- By the same ticket, Ankh-Morpork chocolate is compared to "real" chocolate as having the same relation than Dibbler's sausages to actual meat. The list of ingredients of the standard Guild of Chocolatiers' mix is mentioned as "milk, sugar, suet, hooves, lips, miscellaneous squeezings, rat droppings, plaster, flies, tallow, bits of tree, hair, lint, spiders, and powdered cocoa husks", in approximate order of quantity.
- 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 standard meal in low-end taverns and "potshops" in and around Flea Bottom in King's Landing is a "bowl o' brown", a stew made by boiling whatever meat or fish the cook could buy, find or scrounge that day into an unidentifiable goop over many, many hours on low or medium heat while occasionally topping it up with cheap, cloudy ale and whatever grains/leftover stale-bread come to hand both for thickness and that distinctive colour. People reduced to actually eating brown generally know better than to ask what animal(s) went into it, although the veg is (generally) safe enough, if, presumably, mostly involving scallions, shallots, onions, leeks, garlic, name-an-allium, legumes to occasionally hide the lack of meat, the odd root vegetable of questionable freshness and whatever else fell off the back of a cart. Over the course of the series, cats, dogs, gulls, feral pigeons, dead horses... and quite a few inconvenient individuals (or parts thereof, in various stages of decomposition) end up in the stewpots. Worse, it's clear that this... delicacy-and-disposal-method... has been around for at least a century. Meeting a sellsword who admits to liking (and really missing) authentic King's Landing brown is enough to make Tyrion lose his appetite, though it didn't stop his snark.
- 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.
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.
- In Richard Powell's Don Quixote, U.S.A. Arthur makes a stew of mussels, mullet and queen conch for a bunch of starving South American rebels. Fearing their reaction if they realize they've been eating seafood, he tells someone who asks what meat it is the scientific name for queen conch. The questioner replies that it's "some kind of big rat, no doubt" and that he's 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."
- In one of the Gaunt's Ghosts short stories, mention is made of a standard Guard ration called "Slab". It's made from "reprocessed protein" (Possibly making it a precursor to the "soylens viridiens" issued to the Guard in the Ciaphas Cain novels that take place several centuries later), and has no flavor beyond a mucusy texture. Back when Gaunt was in schola, one of his classmates discovered that it could be molded to look like plastic explosives, which resulted in a prank that was legendary in both the havoc it caused and the wrath of the faculty afterwords.
- The Stormlight Archive: Soulcast meat is treated like this. Any Soulcast food is bland, tasteless, with an unidentifiable texture. While everyone knows that the meat is transmuted from rocks, that knowledge doesn't really help.
Kaladin: Look at it. It's cheaper than water.
- Discussed for laughs in Loyal Enemies. In a village, the first thing Veres does is buy a whole basket of stuffed pierogies, while Shelena purchases a barbecued lizard. When dragon Gloom asks werewolf Shelena if she's considered that she's eating a distant relative of his, she snarks that, well, Veres isn't exactly considering that he's eating Fluffy over there. After a while, Gloom pulls her aside and asks if, well, those pierogies were really stuffed with Fluffy. Shelena's answer? How would she know which particular dog that was.
- In Parrotfish Sebastian is the only one who Grady knows who actually eats the school's disgusting hot lunches. The "meatloaf with mashed potatoes" is rather nondescript and covered in brown goo that is supposed to be gravy.
- The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. For a time Toby has a job at a fast-food restaurant named "SecretBurgers!" where the "mystery" of the meat is upheld as a selling point. The advertisements promise that no two burgers are the same, and that each patty might be an unexpected exotic delicacy. Toby, having seen the kitchens, knows this is a lie: much of the meat is ground-up rats, stray cats and other vermin. Incidentally, the area is rife with crime, and occasionally people targeted by the Mega-Corps and gangs go missing. Their bodies are conveniently never found by police, but Toby knows where the pieces are. The patrons at SecretBurgers! know how horrible the food is, but they simply can't afford to care, underscoring what a Crapsack World the setting is.
- 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.
- A syndicated edition of To Tell the Truth had the panel served up with dishes of fancy delicacies, which host Garry Moore describes individually as the panel partakes. Things come to a hilariously abrupt halt when Garry tells the panel that the dishes they're eating were prepared for pet dogs and cats.
- Mockolate on Friends. Monica is asked to come up with recipes for it while the company awaits FDA to approve it. (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. Especially considering that the Head of Security couldn't get a steak delivered without having the Doctor fudge some paperwork to have it reclassified as medical supplies.
- 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.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Kryten", Lister is just taking a swig of tea when Holly happens to mention that among the items they need to stock up on from the Nova 5 is cow's milk, since they're now on the emergency back-up supplies: dog's milk.
Holly: Nothing wrong with dog's milk. Full of goodness, full of vitamins, full of marrow bone jelly. Lasts longer than any other kind of milk, dog's milk.
Lister: Why's that?
Holly: No bugger'll drink it. Plus, the advantage of dog's milk is that when it goes off it tastes exactly the same as when it's fresh.
Lister: Why didn't you tell me this before?
Holly: What, and put you off your tea?
- You Can't Do That on Television: A recurring sketch is a group of teens at a local diner called Barf's, where most sketches end with the Barfy Burgers living up to their name.
What do you think's in the burgers!
- Occasionally cropped up on M*A*S*H, in jokes regarding the unidentifiable (and often unchewable) meat dishes in the 4077's canteen.
- Daryl from Letterkenny mentions buying so-called venison from a street meat vendor, and finding out that it wasn't genuine the hard way.
- On My Name Is Earl, to make up for giving Joy a godawful toe disease and getting her trapped in a bubble until she's better, Earl has to do all of Joy's chores, such as catching up on gossip, harassing the ice cream man over an incident that happened years ago...and buying meat from one of their trailer park neighbors, out of the trunk of said neighbor's car.
Earl: [looking concerned at a piece of meat] What part of the animal is this?
Neighbor: I don't even know what kind of animal it's from!
- Ru Pauls Drag Race season two had a mini challenge requiring the queens to determine whether a number of mystery meats were chicken or something else. This was when the series was a more straight-up parody of reality TV in general and was a take on the genre's gross-out eating challenges.
- 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
- Jeff Foxworthy once said of Louisiana that it "has the best food you've ever eaten, just don't ask too many questions about what's on your plate. I've seen cooks in New Orleans beating at their pots with big spoons shouting "GIT BACK IN THAT POT! GIT BACK IN THERE!!"
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Best not to ask what goes into Mrs. Lovett's pies, even before her partnership with the eponymous barber.
"And I'm telling you them pussycats is quick!"
- Les Misérables: The Thenardiers' inn serves up some rather bizarre delicacies.
Food beyond compare
Food beyond belief
Mix it in the mixer and pretend it's beef!
Kidney of a horse
Liver of a cat
Filling up the sausages with this and that!
- In Are We There Yet? the diary entry for the Sowsbury 500 Pig Races states that "The next day Mom made sandwiches from this canned mystery meat that I think was the mortal remains of one of the losers."
- "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 of the missions done for Edna the Lunch Lady in Bully involves finding out exactly what goes into the mystery meat at Bullworth Academy cafeteria - discount meat from the butchershop. Not only is the meat just on the safe side of being rancid already, Edna states that it'll last for a month, as "there are no fussy eaters at Bullworth".
- One of the loading screens in Dragon Age II advises people to never order the stew in the Hanged Man (the local bar) because nobody's entirely sure what meat they use to make it.
- One of the various food items in the Eschalon series is meat scraps. Eating them gives you the message "Where this meat has come from is questionable, but it is fresh and provides some needed protein." Which is saying something considering that other edibles include rat meat and "meaty spider legs."
- Being in the same universe, both Fallen London and Sunless Sea have a couple notable ones:
- A lot of the stuff Mr. Hearts sells is unnervingly odd, and not just because it looks like someone ripped it off a Starfish Alien using very dull knives. It has been known to walk out of the freezer on its own volition, attracts bugs like nothing else, will practically hypnotize you into eating it and you will probably be violently sick afterwards.
- Rubbery Lumps outside of Mutton Island tend to be these, as they don't have access to the secret ingredients they have (an undisclosed sea monster) and thus have to make do with any oceanic beast that the fishermen bring in. A bad batch of Rubbery Lumps will leave you smelling like rotten fish for a long while, along with giving you horrible food poisoning that'll leave you puking for days. A good batch is, surprisingly, delicious. And also comes from eldritch sea urchins called Lorn-Flukes that willingly donated it, because those who eat them and die afterwards will turn into Drownies.
- Fallout 2 has a restaurant that sells "Large Wasteland Omelets." Your character thinks they're delicious, and eating one will heal you up to full health. If you check the shed behind the restaurant, however, you'll find a Deathclaw locked in it: the omelets are made from the Deathclaw's egg. In Fallout: New Vegas, you can encounter the restaurant owner's granddaughter, who's learned the recipe from the original character. This time she's open about the fact that it's made with Deathclaw eggs.
- You might come across "Strange Meat" in Fallout 3. 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. It's implied that Strange Meat is human flesh deliberately prepared in such a way as to disguise it as something else, so that it can be sold to people who don't realize what they're buying.
- According to Old Ben, one butcher in Freeside made a killing off of this practice, and sold it cheaply enough to put Ben's father's shop out of business. This continued until people started getting "shakes" (strongly implied to be Kuru) from eating it, including the butcher himself, who eventually died from the disease.
- Fallout 4 has a quest named "Mystery Meat", in which you expose a trader running a crooked meat-canning operation, whose secret ingredient is ghoul flesh.
- One student in Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis claims that the roast served in the cafeteria of Al-Revis is dried Puni.
- One of the side quests in Neverwinter Nights mod Shadowlands involves killing a bunch of out-of-control fire beetles in the basement of the local inn. It turns out that they're the "secret ingredient" in a rather popular noodle dish sold by one of the market vendors.
- The Nickelodeon Clickamajigs "Chef's Mystery Special" features a gonky lunch lady feeding gross slob that includes shoes, tin cans, rotten food, cigar butts, human body parts, and other inedible stuff.
- Pokémon Vietnamese Crystal, the infamous Translation Train Wreck bootleg of Pokémon Crystal, gives us "VOLCANO BAKEMEAT".
- The Meat Seller in Quest for Glory III sells mystery meat as rations. If you ask him what's in it, he'll say You Do NOT Want to Know.
- The food served in the cafeteria at Sorcerer's University in The Spellcasting 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).
- World of Warcraft
- Many Cooking recipes use Mystery Meat as an ingredient. It drops from all manners of beasts as well, regardless of whether they resemble mammals, reptiles, birds, or bugs. including vultures and giant scorpions.
- The Alliance quest Dusty Crab Cakes in Duskwood has players kill giant venomous spiders for their meat in Dusky Lump items ("Spiders are kind of like big crabs."), which are (secretly) the main ingredient to Dusky Crab Cakes recipe the chef makes.
- 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.
- Toughened Flesh is the Cataclysm equivalent, dropping from any animal that doesn't have a different set meat drop. It's used to make "Blackened Surprise" and Goblin Barbecues.
- 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.
- XCOM 2 makes mention of ADVENT Burgers, served by the alien regime in their shining city centers. Everyone who's had one agrees they're an Impossibly Delicious Food, even though no one knows what they're made from - "reconstituted protein," sure, but from what? The aliens have banned the keeping of pets and livestock, and have spent the last twenty years eradicating Earth's indigenous animals, to the point that the rumor of a pack of wild dogs takes days to follow up on. And, of course, their master plan makes heavy use of Human Resources...
- 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 a horrific-looking Mix-and-Match Critter.
- 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.
- Ugly Hill had a variation where the mystery meat actually tasted GOOD despite it's dubious quality. Hastings office has a "Loose Meat Sandwich Day" in the cafeteria, which is apparently very popular with the workers.
Peter: Mmm-mmm, this loose meat sandwich tastes so good I'm choosing to ignore the cow's eye I just bit into!
- 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!
- SCP Foundation: SCP-1361 is a living, man-eating mystery meat.
- Team Four Star's Dungeons & Dragons campaign has this as a Running Gag courtesy of "Grammy", the sea hag galley chef the group meets in the first session. In that session she served the group chicken soup and challenged them to identify the Secret Ingredient. It's not love, it's seagull. Later on she serves them pie containing pufferfish — toxin included and serves Eloy tomato soup with still-screaming mandrake. Of course, as horrible as her food may sound, if the players can make their Constitution saves they tend to get some nice bonuses out of it: the pie granted +1 Armor Class, for example.
- 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.
- Tiny Toons:
- In one episode, 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:
- The cafeteria lady grabs 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 meatloaf 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 Codename: Kids Next Door serves 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. The food is not only gross, it's also sentient and it forcibly tries to stuff itself inside children's mouths.
- 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. It turns out that the mystery meat was actually corned beef hash; Leonard had accidentally fed him that that morning instead of dog food.
- In Aladdin: The Series, Genie's Big Book of Things you Aren't Supposed to Know includes what's really in a tongue sandwich.
- An episode of Beavis and Butt-Head begins with the two in the school cafeteria, where they're mystified by that days serving of mystery meat.
Beavis: Huhu, cool, mystery meat!
Butthead: [pokes it with a knife] I think its cheese!
- Batman: The Animated Series has the classic episode "Joker's Favor" where Gotham's most luckless Butt-Monkey, Charlie Collins, has had the worst day of his life, which is topped off by his wife making meatloaf that night. Of course, after a run-in with the Joker that ends up haunting him for two years before the matter is finally resolved, his wife's meatloaf is looking pretty good.
Batman: Go home, Mr Collins.
Charlie: Home. Never thought that could sound so good. Wonder what Bonny is making for dinner. Right now anything would be good, even meatloaf.
- The unfinished Mission Hill episode "Supertool" had its b-plot start out with Kevin trying to use the bathroom at school to brush his teeth to get rid of the aftertaste of the schools "Nutrition Loaf". Toby remarks that at least its better than the even lower quality "Behavior Loaf".
- In the Sonic Boom episode, "Three Men and My Baby!", Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles volunteer to babysit Chumley, Lady Walrus' infant son, after they accidentally injure Lady Walrus. Near the end of the episode, Chumley runs away, and when Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles search for him at Meh Burger, Sonic tells Dave it's great that Chumley is not ingesting Grade-D beef. Dave then tells Sonic, "I wouldn't call it beef, per se."
- Recess: The cafeteria food of Third Street School is very hit-and-miss, and when they run out of food the kids actually want, tend to substitute with horrific glop like liver and eggplant.
- In "The Dude", former student The Dude claims that the school even smells the same from his childhood. Spinelli claims it's because the stench from the cafeteria is permanent.
- Taken to a final extreme in Taking The Fifth Grade when the school starts serving a synthetic food paste as part of a misplaced reform attempt by the school board. This is the straw that breaks the camels back and T.J ends up going on strike against the schools insane new policies.
- The Rankin-Bass adaptation of the Return Of The King featues Samwise and Frodo amongst orcs in disguise. Despite the situation looking hopeless, Samwise mentions that at least the whipmaster allowed them to keep their food packs, saying that orc food makes rodents sick.
- Dilbert: In "Company Picnic", The Pointy-Haired Boss wants to buy a brand of hot dog called "Zoo No More" for the company picnic because it's much cheaper than beef or chicken and allows a bigger beer budget (and he happens to own stock in the brand). When he actually goes to buy the hot dogs, he ends up buying even lower quality hot dogs from a seedy guy with a Coat Full of Contraband. Every single person who eats the hot dogs in that episode ends up with severe food poisoning, including the Boss and the seller!
- South Park normally averts this, originally due to Chef's excellent cooking and a reasonable budget, but was playes straight on atleast two occasions:
- In "Sexual Harassment Panda", frivolous lawsuits led to the school being squeezed dry and Chef was reduced to serving something called "lumpy potato" for lunch, which is what convinced Cartman he was wrong for starting the lawsuit trend.
- In "Succubus", Chef briefly quits his job after being ensared by a succubus, and is replaced by the obnoxious Mr Derp who's more interested in trying to seem funny with terrible jokes than cooking, and only serves "yellow stuff, or white stuff". It's implied that Mr Derp replaced Chef permanently after the latter's death in season 10, but the food quality hasnt dipped again.
- Danger Mouse recoils after drinking Penfold's tea (episode "Ee-Tea!"). He pours it into an analyzer which tells him that it was low grade dishwater. Every cuppa in the land has been replaced with it, thanks to Baron Greenback.
- African "Bushmeat". Whatever it is, it's very probably endangered. Or, a cousin of ours. Maybe even actually human, rather than the vervet monkey or bat you were reassured it was. And, it may also give you the latest, hottest version of HIV, Ebola or whatever new horror that crosses the species barrier next as a bonus freebie, forget just normal food poisoning.
- 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 lenguanote . Tripasnote . Barbacoanote . All very tasty dishes, and an authentic staple of northern Mexico. None of which are made from things that most Americans would voluntarily eat. (Note to Americans—and many other peoples, so don't think you're off the hook—Mexicans think you're stupid for that.)
- 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, causing disturbance in several countries (and particularly Britain).
- In most European countries, horse meat is not a big deal in and of 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 (i.e. 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.
- As is usual respecting European events, Scandinavia and the World is on the case.
- In most European countries, horse meat is not a big deal in and of 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.
- 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'.
- School cafeteria chili is a favorite target because God alone knows what it was to begin with before it went into the pot, and the cooking process makes identification nearly impossible.
- During World War II, the Swedish Army referred to its rations as "food and potatoes", since the potatoes were usually the only thing that was identifiable, and the rest... well, if you could figure out what it was, you'd wish you hadn't. For reference, seagulls and crows were two of the least objectionable wartime fillers.