The McRib sandwich from McDonald’s is a strange product of the food science world: fake “ribs” molded out of mystery pork and drowning in sauce. First McDonald’s created the “Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America” spoof. Now, the fast food chain is running a campaign to get customers to submit a video with a “legendary” creation story of the McRib sandwich. The winner will receive $10,000 dollars and a trip to Germany. The fact that McDonald’s is making fun of the nebulous origins of its food is borderline offensive to anyone who would like there to be some transparency in our food chain.
Well, OK, McDonald’s, we’ll tell you where the McRib comes from: an enormous factory farm. A giant shed with a floor covered in feces, where tens of thousands of pigs will be born without ever having enough space to turn around in and most will never see daylight. Let’s remember that, unlike a chicken, a pig has fairly advanced mental capacities, much like your pet dog. Because these pigs live in such tight quarters, they tend to develop bizarre behaviors due to stress. The animals, taken away from their mothers shortly after birth, nibble on each other’s tails because they are not allowed to wean. The pig having its tail nibbled is too apathetic to fight or object, but the chewed tails are likely to be infected. The solution? All the pigs get their tails cut off at birth. I’ll spare you a description of a slaughter. A typical slaughterhouse kills up to 1,100 pigs per hour, according to PETA.
Let’s consider the meat itself. Is it really meat from the rib? No. “Primarily, it’s shoulder meat,” explains Rob Cannell, director of McDonald’s U.S. supply chain in a 2022 interview. “The McRib is made in large processing plants—lots of stainless steel, a number of production lines, and these long cryogenic freezers. The pork meat is chopped up, then seasoned, then formed into that shape that looks like a rib back. Then we flash-freeze it. The whole process from fresh pork to frozen McRib takes about 45 minutes.”
Translation: mechanically separated meat. Remember the pink goo chicken nuggets are made from? It’s the piggy version. Just check out the two photos of the grayish meat inside the “rib patty” snapped by the team at foodfacts.info. The texture looks like something that’s been chewed up and spit out.
I’ll conclude this story of origins with a few nutritional facts, which of course you can find via McDonald’s website, although they bury it in a downloadable PDF. A single McRib sandwich contains 490 calories, 220 calories from fat. The sauce contains high fructose corn syrup. In addition to pork, the “McRib patty” also contains salt, dextrose, citric acid, butylated hydroxyanisole, and TBHQ, which in high doses is a carcinogen.
For more information about factory farms, please refer to Michael Pollen’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.