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The Crushed Cow Chronicles: A Tale of Corned Beef

Published: 
Monday, March 27, 2017
Corned beef tin with key opener.

We know it well. Sitting on the grocery shelves in its trapezoid-shaped can with the other goods, corned beef has sustained many a Trini when things got lean.

Dressed up with some pimento pep­pers, chadon beni, garlic, onions and more, it was usually eaten with rice, cabbage, an occasional slice of plantain (or avocado if you were feeling “stush”) and was known as the go-to food of the working class—and a few bachelors.

When tropical storm and hurricane warnings threatened the peace of our rainy season, we were duly instructed to include it on our emergency lists of supplies with the candles, batteries and Crix.

Now, our emergency kits and cup­boards will be an item short due to the recent ban on all corned beef products coming out of Brazil, a country which reportedly supplied 80 per cent of corned beef products for consumption. (Womp, womp…)

According to a T&T Guardian newspa­per report, The Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries temporarily banned all meat imports from Brazil, essentially rescinding licenses for the importation of such products following reports of a rotting meat scandal involving some of that country’s top suppliers.

What followed was an immediate recall on corned beef brands throughout the Caribbean, including Jamaica (where it’s known as ‘bully-beef’) and T&T.

As such, consumers were further ad­vised to read the labels on other canned and packaged meat products carefully before purchasing.

As you may have guessed, social media was ablaze with nostalgic and derisive commentary on the situation, recalling the Rainbow corned beef ads from the ’80s and 2000s, and wondering what the white stuff was that settled on the bottom of the tin when you opened it. (When I was little my granny told me it was candle grease—oh, the tales we children were told…)

But do we really know what’s inside that “can of crushed cow”?

Local urban legends aside, corned beef has nothing at all to do with actual ears of corn. Corning is actually a salting process, which is done to cure the meat itself.

The product is definitely considered red meat because it is manufactured from lower quality cuts, ie those not good enough to be sold as fresh.

The meat would be most likely be low grade, tough and unpalatable “meat” (possibly MRM Mechanically Recov­ered Meat, depending on the regula­tions on where it is sold) and is likely brined before being packed into the tin and canned.

The production of corned beef isn’t discussed much as manufacturers believe consumers will likely be put off.

The “meat,” whether it is MRM or everything EXCEPT the animal’s blood, skin and bones is debatable, and either way it isn’t comfortable eating knowing that.

In terms of one’s health, according to the World Health Organization, pro­cessed foods—which also include corned beef—do cause cancer.

The report said 50g of processed meat a day—less than two slices of bacon— increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 per cent, adding that red meats were “probably carcino­genic, but there was limited evidence”.

Inversely, there were also health bene­fits and it suggested that instead of cut­ting it out completely, consumers should actually cut down on its consumption.

So, in essence, although our corned beef consumption has been cut, for those of us who ate it with love (and in blissful ignorance), we shall forever have our memories from the bad (such as cutting one’s finger on the can when trying to open it without the key) to the good (laughing at the old Rainbow corned beef commercial while chowing down on a plateful of corned beef and rice.) Rest in pieces, mystery bovine; alas, we hardly knew ye.

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