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Mystery Meat

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"Once it's in the soup, I call it beef."
Greasy Sae, The Hunger Games, talking about wild dog meat

Food of unknown composition. Like value-priced sausages, which is all the parts of meat they don't put in the attractive cuts in the butcher shop display; discount meatloaf at a skidrow diner, which has mysterious chunks that aren't meat; and stew made by a Camp Cook with a mix of hard-to-identify items floating in it.

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, fat, some offal and other by-products 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 like oatmeal or rice 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; or even missing persons. (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.

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

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 North American 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.

While padding recipes with ingredients you have too much of has gotten tarred as a cheap, underhanded tactic of the Camp Cook or cafeteria cook, in Real Life professional kitchens, even the chef at a fancy restaurant will seek to avoid food waste by incorporating ingredients into some dish before they go bad. So if the roast beef is on its last day, it may be incorporated into a meatloaf. If some vegetables are on their last day, they might get thrown into a stew or a stir-fry. That stale cake may be soaked in coffee and turned into tiramisu. With the high price of food, making use of everything rather than throwing it away is sound business sense (and good for the environment).

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.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the first episode of Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!, 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 (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.
  • Rebuild World: In the slums Akira grew up as a Street Urchin in, the main supply of food is what the government hands out twice per day. These foods include things like meat produced by enigmatic Lost Technology devices, plants grown in radioactive fields, and meat from Nanomachine infested monsters, with the purpose being to test if these foods are safe for commercial sale. This sometimes results in horrific mutations. The food has warning labels, but most everyone in the slums Never Learned to Read and they’re Too Desperate to Be Picky even if they could. After Akira earns enough money, he donates funds for Sheryl to make sure the kids in the slum gang the two established together have decent food and can read.
  • Played for horror in Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories with "Ominie-San", a mysterious purple glop that gives off black fumes that becomes inexplicably popular for lunch at a local school, and quickly spreads to the rest of the town. It also moves. The short ends before it's true nature can be explained, but is implied to be some sort of brainwashing, as the main character becomes ravenous for it as well despite her earlier disgust.

    Comic Books 
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel): One issue has a group of Joe recruits being put through deliberately harsh training to see who cracks. Lunch is "mystery meat on a shingle". One disgusted recruit asks "How do they get it so grey?".
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: In the Threeboot, 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 Simpsons: In one story, Homer enters an eating contest where the objective is to wolf down as many meat pies as possible within a time limit. Homer manages to eat all but one of his allotment, and is spurred on to finish the last one when he hallucinates the ghosts of the animals that went into it telling him to not let their deaths be in vain — a cow, a pig, a rat, and a platypus.
  • Teacher's Pet: This shows up in a comic of the series, 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.
  • Tintin: Tintin - 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Anything that 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, although his dad still doesn't want to try eating it. She tries the same trick in another strip, calling stuffed peppers "monkey heads" (with much the same result — Calvin happily eats it, but his dad rejects it).
  • FoxTrot: Pretty much any scene set in the high school lunchroom is guaranteed to reference this trope, often exaggerated.
    • In one strip, a planned meal of pasta with white sauce turns into past with red sauce because a cook cut herself and got blood on the food, which they served to the students anyway.
      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 had a little accident with the meat cutter.
      Nicole: Did you have that pasta today? It had an odd metallic taste...
    • In one strip, the cafeteria offers a vegetarian alternative: Meatless Mystery.
    • 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. This turns out to be Squid Tentacles, Eggplant, And Ketchup.
  • Garfield: Garfield has occasionally crossed paths with some Mystery Meat when Jon goes too long without cleaning the refrigerator.
    • In one strip, he has to flee for safety because the Mystery Meat had crawled out of the tinfoil and tried to attack him.
    • Another time Jon and the pets are on vacation and the local delicacy is something called Unguah. Exactly what an Unguah is is never specified, but judging by the cooks unhappy reaction to seeing a live one in his kitchen, it's probably some sort of vermin.
    • Played with in another strip, Jon was looking over a yearbook talking about how the lunch ladies made school lunches fun with "Mystery Meat Mondays", to which Garfield replies with how he loves guessing games.

    Fan Works 
  • Beyond Heroes: Discussed in Of Sunshine and Red Lyrium, as Varric and Bethany eat some stew prepared by the Skyhold chef. Varric notes that they can be reasonably sure about what they're eating, as opposed to the mystery meat in the stew at the Hanged Man in Kirkwall. (This is a throwaway joke referring to one of the Dragon Age II loading screens, which made reference to the mystery meat used in the tavern.)
  • The Bolt Chronicles: Penny broadly describes the horrid cafeteria food in "The School" by referring to a typically inscrutible and unpalatable meat dish. She calls it "hash-luscious."
  • Harry Potter gets smart and takes control -- the goblet: Goblin cuisine is heavy on the meat, a lot of which is "green or other odd colours".
  • 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.
  • Magical Metamorphosis: Hagrid serves Holly, Ron, and Hermione "beef casserole" with claws in it.
  • Retro Chill: The aliens' mystery meat is made of something so disgusting that the narrator refuses to describe what it is.
  • That Others May Tinker: Taylor is impressed by the food at Arcadia actually looking like food, after her previous experiences.
    Taylor: Back at Winslow I'm pretty sure the meatloaf had achieved sentience and ate the leftover salads.
  • Things I Am Not Allowed to Do at the PPC: Agents aren't allowed to ask what the cafeteria food is made of, especially if it looks like something recognizable.

    Films — Animation 
  • Kronk's New Groove: The food that Kronk brings to the Flickering Embers Home for Seniors is Puree of Mystery Meat.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Clue: Mrs. Peacock's enjoyment of monkey brains, a mystery meat to the other diners, is a key to two of the solutions.
  • Demolition Man: One scene has Spartan buy a burger from a member of the Resistance, only for the other characters to point out that the Resistance doesn't exactly have space and resources to raise cattle underground, and that the meat in the burger is almost certainly rat. Spartan doesn't really mind, since it's the closest thing he's had to a decent meal since being unfrozen in the future.
  • Eating Raoul: The dish is definitely not French. More... Spanish.
  • 'The Great Outdoors'': Roman refers to hot dogs as being made from "lips and assholes". In the next scene, when raccoons raid the cabin's trash, one of the raccoons says the exact same thing.
  • Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey: In one scene, 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.
  • 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.
  • Gunless: In an exchange when Sean is eating the first meal Jane made for him, he asks what went into it. She simply replies "meat".
    Sean: What is this supposed to be?
    Jane: (defensively) Meat.
    She eats a forkful and makes a wry face
  • 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.
  • Meatballs: Bill Murray during one of the camp announcements. It's arguably the Trope Codifier if not the source of the name.
    "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'."
  • The Scavengers: Best not to think about what The Remnant were eating while on the march. What is shown is inedible looking green leaves topped with an unidentifiable grey slop. Whatever it was, most of the men felt that horse meat would be a definite improvement.

  • This is a staple of the Stoneybrook Middle School's cafeteria in The Babysitters Club.
  • In Lawrence Block's The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, Bernie and Carolyn eat a lunch purchased at Two Guys From Taichung.
    Carolyn: I couldn't even guess the animal. Let alone what part of the animal.
    Bernie: It could be almost anything.
    Carolyn: I know.
  • 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.
  • Discworld:
    • C.M.O.T. Dibbler's sausages and meat pies in the 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".
    • The canteen in Moving Pictures offers really dodgy food, taking advantage of the fact that most people in Holy Wood are barely scraping by. When Victor asks why trolls eat rocks, one replies that "you're made a' meat, and what do you eat?" Victor replies, "Good question." Later, they take to calling it "fish stew," on the basis that it's made of things found in water.
    • By the same ticket, Ankh-Morpork chocolate is compared to "real" chocolate as having the same relation Dibbler's sausages have 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.
  • In Richard Powell's Don Quixote, U.S.A. Arthur makes a stew of mussels, mullet, and queen conch for a bunch of starving San Marcos 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 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 afterwards.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • A Running Gag in the Maradaine Constabulary novels is that absolutely nobody knows what kind of meat the owner of the food cart selling wraps outside the police station is serving. Including a minor character who happens to be a butcher. The only person shown eating there regularly does so because 1: He's a mage, and the universe has magic be Cast from Calories, making him a Big Eater, 2: The cart is right outside his place of work, and therefore convenient, and 3: Whatever it is, it's cheap.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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 went into it, although the veg is (generally) safe enough. Over the course of the series, cats, dogs, gulls, feral pigeons, questionably aged fish, dead horses... and quite a few inconvenient individuals (or parts thereof, in various stages of decomposition) end up in the stew pots. 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 doesn't stop his snark. It's also quite teling that during the siege of King's Landing, bread becomes unavailable very quickly, but the bowls of brown never go away (though they do get smaller and more expensive).
  • In Stark by Ben Elton, Sly Moorcock orders a meal of swan, just because it seems like something an insanely rich person would eat. When it's served, he compares its taste to cat, with good reason. In the same novel, the author defines the filling of meat pies as "minced string in gravy", although they still taste delicious.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Soulcast meat is treated like this. Any Soulcast food is bland, tasteless, and 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.
  • In the Dave Barry novel Tricky Business, the band of the cruise ship suspected that the cook was just reheating the same food over and over again rather than actually cooking anything. So they tested 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 has been a part of the generally untouched buffet for a week.
  • Wayside School has a lunch lady who 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 who 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.
  • 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 is brandy with some medicinal herbs in it). The disturbing thing is that conditions in Hardorn are so bad that the mystery meat is actually an improvement over what some people had been eating.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • It is occasionally mentioned that one shouldn't inquire too closely as to what the stuff 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.
  • On Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Andrew finds himself eating a... "rodent" is probably as accurate as you're going to get.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Earshot" the cafeteria lady dumps rat poison into the dessert in order to murder the students. Xander, while stealing jell-o, finds her red-handed.
    • In "Doublemeat Palace", Buffy starts working at the eponymous fast food place and finds a human finger in the meat grinder, leading her to believe the burgers are made from people. This ends up being a bait-and-switch: the finger was there because a demon ate one of the workers because he tasted like the burgers, but the meat itself was more mundane. Except that it wasn't meat at all - it was veggieburger flavored with beef and chicken fat. Fattening cardboard. Charming.
  • 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.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Caves of Androzani", Peri is taken prisoner and served a bowl of unidentifiable green mush. Her cellmate calls it "nourishment" and cheerfully tells her it tastes worse than it looks.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Good Eats: Used in the episode, "Oh, my! Meat pie!" Alton's ancestor repeatedly asks Mrs. Lovett what's in her pies...and she replies that she doesn't recall, but reassures him that it was fresh at the time. At the end, Scotland Yard comes by her pie shop to investigate several "mysterious" disappearances in the area, and she runs off to America with Alton's ancestor.
  • The Goodies episode "Kung Fu Kapers" did this with black pudding. "Pigs' blood...rats' brains...oh, poor tom kittens!" See also Music.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Daryl from Letterkenny mentions buying so-called venison from a street meat vendor, and finding out that it wasn't genuine the hard way.
  • Married... with Children: In one episode, Kelly comes home from her job as waitress at a local diner, annoyed about customers complaining about finding a cat claw in their food. What makes this example especially bad is that the meal in question was a salad!
  • Occasionally cropped up on M*A*S*H, in jokes regarding the unidentifiable (and often unchewable) meat dishes in the 4077's canteen.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • In Porridge, the prison food is sometimes unknown, coming from a tin which says "tinned meat". This also happens with a tin labelled "fruit pie filling".
  • 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?
  • RuPaul's Drag Race Season 2 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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!
  • A syndicated edition of To Tell the Truth has 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.
  • 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".
  • Worst Cooks in America: Naturally, some of the worst cooks have ingredients that are unidentifiable and/or past their prime when introduced. Also invoked by Chef Anne, when she teaches them how to cook with organ meats (not usually eaten in mainstream US culture), and introduces the concept by making them dishes they all love, and shocking them when she reveals that they involve hearts and livers.
  • Yes, Minister has the Euro-sausage standardization 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 abattoir waste and scraps, so the EU attempts a reclassify them by the more accurate but highly unappetizing term "emulsified high-fat offal tubes"note . Hacker then twists the relevant information to make it look like the EU is planning to ban British sausages, and the resulting political hubbub gives Jim an opportunity to raise his profile and take advantage of an unrelated political crisis to become PM.
  • 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!

  • "(There's A) Cat In the Kettle" by Bob Rivers, a parody of "Cat in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin.
  • 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
  • Eric Bogle's "The Great Aussie Takeaway", in which various fast foods reveal themselves to be cat, dog, horse and kangaroo, despite which he still eats the things.
    For value and vitamins they sure beat all the rest,
    A takeaway every day puts hairs upon your chest,
    But just what's in the bloody things is anybody's guеss,
    But I still like take-aways.
  • "Superfast Jellyfish" off Gorillaz' Plastic Beach album.
  • 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
  • "Mystery Fish" by Aesop Rock.
    If you give an address in a river of piss,
    don't question the mystery fish
    Just picture shrimp on a pillow of grits
    Close your eyes, lick your lips
  • "Mummy I Don't Like My Meat" by The Goodies. An impoverished family's child keeps asking her mother where all their pets and her father have gone.
  • "Where Have All The Horses Gone?" by Mitch Benn:
    "Where have all the horses gone?
    "Mummy, tell us please?"
    "Never mind," say Mum and Dad,
    "Let's go to Maccy D's."

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • 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!!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The Halfling Clan Rumster is infamous for trading in dirt-cheap, bottom-quality foodstuffs of all kinds, but especially for its meat pies, which are rumored to contain everything from vermin to business rivals. In the Empire, food-borne diseases causing diarrhoea are commonly known as "Rumster's Revenge".

  • 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
  • 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.
    Mrs. Lovett: And I'm telling you them pussycats is quick!

    Video Games 
  • 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."
  • Avernum: "Weird meat" 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.
  • Barbarous Tavern Of Emyr: A halfling compliments Emyr on the tender meat in the stew, and asks if it's chicken. It's heavily implied that it's rat.
    Halfling: Is it free-range chicken?
    [A rat runs across the background, pauses behind them and then runs offscreen.]
    Emyr: Yeah, sure, free-range... right?
  • Bully: One of the missions done for Edna the Lunch Lady 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".
  • Dragon Age II: One of the loading screens 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.
  • Elden Ring: The description of the Raw Meat Dumpling notes that it's "not for those who prefer to know the origin of their meats." Environmental clues heavily imply it's human meat.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • In a minor dungeon, the Dovahkiin discovers that some bandits have been using wolves for a dogfighting enterprise. They find the diary of the outfit's cook, in which the gourmet complains that the bandits don't appreciate his skill with vegetables and keep nagging him to get them some meat. The remaining clues in the kitchen indicate that the cook started feeding the bandits canine meat (from the fighting pit), and when they discovered what they were really eating, they... didn't take it well.
    • In a book called The Red Kitchen Reader, a man recounts climbing into a red-painted kitchen as a child and eating some meat he found there. He describes it as being delicious, and had planned on sticking around to ask the kitchen's owners what it was, but got bored waiting for them to come home so he left. It's heavily implied that he stumbled into a Dark Brotherhood torture chamber and that the meat was very likely humanoid.
  • Eschalon: One of the various food items in the 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".
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • Fallout 3: You might come across "Strange Meat". You might not want to eat that. It's human flesh.
    • Fallout: New Vegas has "Strange Meat" and Strange Meat Pie, which are actually fairly commonly-found food items. 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"; Longneck Lukowski's Cannery is a pre-war cannery that survived the nuclear apocalypse mostly unscathed and was eventually repaired and reopened by Theodore Collins, who's made a very profitable business for himself selling canned meat to the rest of the Commonwealth... except as of late, there's been reports of people getting sick from his meat. While exploring the factory, the player finds that Collins product seems to consist of a mix of Radstag, Molerat and even Radroach, kind of gross but perfectly edible until they reach the basement, where they were told not to go. Turns out that Collins had difficulty getting enough meat to meet the unexpected demand, and when one of the basement walls collapsed, letting in a horde of Feral Ghouls, he decided to start using their flesh as filler. The customers are getting sick because they've unknowingly been eating heavily irradiated human flesh. After escaping the basement, the player is forced to kill Collins, who's willing to resort to murder to hide his secret.
  • Kindergarten: The cafeteria sells "slop", a grey goo that, according to the lunch lady, contains "herbs and spices and salt and about 89 percent the principal's secret ingredient". Whatever that secret ingredient is, it comes from a strange machine in the principal's secret lab, meaning it's probably not recommended for consumption.
  • Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis: One student claims that the roast served in the cafeteria of Al-Revis is dried Puni.
  • Neverwinter Nights: One of the side quests in the 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.
  • Nickelodeon Clickamajigs: "Chef's Mystery Special" features a gonky lunch lady feeding gross slop that includes shoes, tin cans, rotten food, cigar butts, human body parts, and other inedible stuff.
  • Persona: There's a set of recurring bizarre food items (Muscle Drink, Odd Morsel and Rancid Gravy) that are effective but also cause some weird Status Effects when consumed. Naturally, they can only be used in battle. Other examples include the Weird Takoyaki from Persona 3("Something other than octopus is inside") and the Mystery Stew from Persona 5 ("No ingredients listed"). Mystery Food X, despite the name, is not an example since we DO know what's made of (usually curry gone horribly, horribly wrong) with the mystery being what the girls did for the food to turn out like THAT.
  • Quest for Glory III: The Meat Seller sells mystery meat as rations. If you ask him what's in it, he'll tell you in exhausting detail (and rhyme) until you decide that You Do Not Want To Know. Its greatest virtue lies in the fact that the merchant is such a terrible haggler that you can get it for virtually nothing.
  • The Simpsons Hit & Run: In Level 3, one of the tasks in the optional "Princi-pal" mission is to get Principal Skinner dinner from Krusty Burger. When Lisa talks to the Squeaky-Voiced Teen, he asks her if she'd like to try a new Krusty Ribwich. Lisa refuses because she's a vegetarian, but the Squeaky-Voiced Teen assures her there's no meat in it; just paste and MSG.
  • The Spellcasting Series: The food served in the cafeteria at Sorcerer's University 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 in the base game 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 the Dusky Crab Cakes recipe the chef makes.
    • Wrath of the Lich King has Chilled Meat, Northrend's version which drops from animals without a dedicated meat drop. 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 also includes 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.
    • Battle for Azeroth has Questionable Meat which drops from animals in regions under threat of Old God invasion, used to craft dishes such as "Ghastly Ghoulash" and "Dubious Delight".
    • Dragonflight has Maybe Meat which drops from animals with no set meat drop, used to prepare such meals as "Hopefully Healthy" and "Probably Protein".
  • 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... The sequel mentioning a move to Artificial Meat further highlights that there was some natural source used during the occupation.

    Visual Novels 
  • Katawa Shoujo: At one point in Rin's route, Hisao refers to the food served at the cafeteria as "fried mystery lumps".

    Web Comics 
  • Sire: Johanna 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.
  • Sluggy Freelance: One arc involves burgers made from ground demon (after Bun-Bun drops the demon into the meat grinder).
  • 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.
  • Ugly Hill has a variation where the mystery meat actually tastes GOOD despite its 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!

    Web Original 
  • Bogleech: In Terms and Conditions ARG, this is the sort of stuff that the creepy restaurants behind the green doors are serving. 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.
  • TFS at the Table 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin: The Series: Genie's Big Book of Things you Aren't Supposed to Know includes what's really in a tongue sandwich.
  • 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 something that's not only inedible, but none of the kids can figure out what the dishes are.
  • Batman: The Animated Series has the 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.
  • Beavis and Butt-Head: One episode begins with the two in the school cafeteria, where they're mystified by that day's serving of mystery meat.
    Beavis: Huhu, cool, mystery meat!
    Butthead: [pokes it with a knife] I think it's cheese!
  • Camp Lazlo had a Halloween episode where a man made of mystery meat came to life and started eating and replacing people with duplicates like The Thing (1982).
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: Gramma Stuffum 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.
  • The Critic: In "Siskel And Ebert and Jay and Alice", Jay and Alice are on their way to the Oscars, and Jay wishes he was in first class like Siskel and Ebert instead of being stuck in coach. Cue a stewardess getting to their seat with the airline dinner, and seemingly offers him a choice of "chicken or fish".
    Jay: Fish, please...
    Stewardess: No, I mean, what is this? Chicken or fish? *the camera pans down, revealing that the dinner in question looks like an unholy crossbreed of a fish and a bird*
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • Doug: "Magic Meat" is served to unwilling students. One episode revolves around Doug drawing a cartoon for the school newspaper that makes fun of it, which results in the newspaper being shut down; by the end, the students not only get their paper back, but magic meat is taken off the menu. In a later episode, in a subversion of the trope, Doug is being overly nostalgic, and goes so far as to believe that Magic Meat was not only edible, but tasty as well.
  • 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.
  • Kim Possible: Frequently served at Middleton High's cafeteria, to the disgust of the students. One episode has Kim and her class forced to watch a video saying what exactly goes into Mystery Meat; the class runs 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 yet another one, Wade analyzes the gravy that a ghost (actually Sensei's astral projection) used to write a message to Ron on the cafeteria wall. Wade tells Kim and Monique that they do not want to know what's in it until they graduate. From college.
  • Mission Hill: The unfinished episode "Supertool" has 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 it's better than the even lower-quality "Behavior Loaf".
  • Moville Mysteries: One episode is 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.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In an episode where they build a truck stop, Ferb can be seen scooping out ingredients from a large can labeled "assorted mammal chunks".
  • Recess:
    • The cafeteria food of Third Street School is very hit-and-miss, and when they run out of food the kids actually want, they tend to substitute with horrific glop like liver and eggplant.
    • "The Dude": Former student turned teacher, Franklin "The Dude" Dudikoff, claims that the school even smells the same as it did during his childhood. Spinelli says it's because the stench from the cafeteria is permanent.
    • Subverted in one episode where Gus brings some of his dad's military rations for lunch, the normally universally reviled chipped beef on crackers, which is one of his favorite foods. Good thing too, since the cafeteria lunch that day is "German Seafood Feast" (i.e a way to use up the leftover fish sticks and sauerkraut).
    • Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade: Taken to a final extreme 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 camel's back and T.J. ends up going on strike against the school's insane new policies.
  • The Return of the King: The Rankin-Bass adaptation features 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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song": Lunchlady Doris gets her ingredients from a barrel labelled "Assorted Horse Parts — Now With More Testicles" ("More testicles mean more iron!").
    • "Treehouse of Horror V": In the "Nightmare Cafeteria" segment, Doris grabs something from a barrel of "Grade F Organ Meat", which is labelled as "Mostly circus animals, some filler".
    • "The PTA Disbands": Doris pushes gym mats into a meat grinder, while Principal Skinner insists that shredded newspaper provides "much needed roughage and essential inks".
      Doris: There's very little meat in these gym mats!
    • "Lisa the Vegetarian": Lisa imagines 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. There's also an exchange as Lisa searches for a meatless option during lunch; Lunchlady Doris suggests the meatloaf.
      Lisa: Doesn't this school serve anything that doesn't contain meat?
      Doris: Possibly the meatloaf.
    • "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can": When Krusty Burger creates the Ribwich, it creates hordes of devotees who follow 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, and implies that this animal was some kind of arthropod.
      Homer: The pig?
      Otto: The cow?
      Krusty: You're way off! Think smaller. Think more legs.
    • Frequent offender Doris gets another one preparing the Valentine Day Heart special. This consists of actual beef hearts, one of them visibly still beating. Hey, beating means it's still fresh!
      Delivery man: Where do you want them?
      Doris: Right here.
      Delivery man: On the floor?
      Doris: 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 has 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".
    • When Homer, Mr. Burns, and Smithers flee to Cuba to escape the IRS, Homer quite enjoys the island, especially the food.
      Homer: [on the phone] It's great, Marge! There's shredded pork everywhere!
      Boy: Es carne de burro! note 
      Homer: [pats his head] Nice to meat you.
    • "Kamp Krusty": The titular camp favors Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel. "Nine out of ten orphans can't tell the difference!"
    • "My Sister, My Sitter": During the grand opening of the Springfield Squidport (in reality a transparent attempt at gentrifying the decaying waterfront district), Homer and Marge visit the food court that has set up shop there, which features all manner of international cuisine. Marge orders chicken tandoori from one stall, while Homer orders beef wellington from another. The viewer is then shown that all the stalls are supplied from a huge vat of the same grey, indeterminate...something or other.
  • Sonic Boom: In "Three Men and My Baby!", Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles volunteer to babysit Chumley, Lady Walrus's 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."
  • South Park normally averts this, originally due to Chef's excellent cooking and a reasonable budget, but it's played straight on at least two occasions:
    • "Succubus": Chef briefly quits his job after being ensnared 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 hasn't dipped again.
    • "Sexual Harassment Panda": Frivolous lawsuits lead to the school being squeezed dry and Chef is reduced to serving something called "lumpy potato" for lunch, which is what convinces Cartman he was wrong for starting the lawsuit trend.
  • 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.
  • 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."
    • According to pilot Montana Max, the airplane food served to Buster and Babs hasn't been classified by science yet. The two main choices are grey lumps in brown sauce or brown lumps in grey sauce.

    Real Life 
  • 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 the boarding house where he lodged suspected that the 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.
  • Hot dogs and sausages that aren't marketed as "pure beef". Those undesirable 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.
    • The common assumption is that hot dogs, bologna, and other very finely minced sausages have that texture due to God-knows-what kind of scary ingredients. This is not a wholly unreasonable fear (especially for the cheap, rotgut stuff), but Life of Boris once made Doktorskaya Kolbasa (basically a Russian version of bologna) from scratch, using nothing but fresh pork, seasoning, ice water, and a food processor. The result was indistinguishable from a similar sausage bought in a store.
  • 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 , and barbacoanote  are also 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: it's only been since the US government began heavily subsudizing beef production after World War 2 that the price of beef fell low enough that people largely stopped eating those parts on a regular basis.)
  • 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 a bit of a subversion though, in most European countries (though not Ireland itself), 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 horse meat, you still want to see it labelled as such. 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.
  • 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.
    • One story involved the infamous "rubber pizza", which was said to literally bounce when you dropped it on the table from a height of a foot or so.
  • Similarly, hospital cuisine can be rather questionable. Just ask anyone who was ever hospitalized.
  • 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.
  • Meat byproduct, meat meal, and animal digest are literally mystery meat ingredients found in pet food and can include anything including entrails, diseased farm animals, roadkill, zoo animals and even euthanized cats and dogs.
  • Potted meat food product is popularly treated as an example. Its name sounds like a Suspiciously Specific Denial, it looks like canned cat food, and many commentators can't be bothered to find out what ingredients like mechanically-separated chicken are before scratching it off as unfit for human consumption.
  • According to a 2021 lawsuit, Subway's tuna is not tuna (or not only tuna), but a mix of cheaper ingredients. DNA tests are returning mixed results, with claims of adulteration with chicken, pork and beef.
  • In some US prisons, particularly those that are Private Profit Prisons, or who have contracted their food supply out to certain corporations, inmates are receiving meat labeled "Not Fit for Human Consumption." What exactly that means...varies. But it often means it's spoiled or about to spoil...and may not be what it claims to be.
  • Older Than Radio: When the Royal Navy introduced tinned mutton rations in 1869, sailors were unimpressed by it and decided that it was probably the butchered remains of Sweet Fanny Adams.
  • Pretty much every city with a student (or similar quantity of drunks) population and a kebab house will have at least one news story (or more likely urban legend) about doner meat. Supposedly one restaurant in Manchesternote  was closed down after half a dog was found in a freezer, while a patron was ejected from another after requesting a "pigeon-rat-squirrel" kebab.