MT Supermarket in Austin, Texas faces a lawsuit after it sold beef penises relabeled as human food. The Texas attorney general’s office has opened the $5,000 civil suit just recently, after numerous customers had already purchased and likely consumed the product. The allegations state that the store had taken pizzle (beef penis) from boxes marked as inedible meat not intended for human consumption, and repackaged it into normal containers labeled as human food. The suit further alleges that both the manager and employees were involved in the mix up. The defendants marked the packages as inspected and from a registered source. The shoppers who purchased the mislabeled products were thus fooled into thinking they were buying a completely different, safe to consume food.
The term pizzle comes from an old English word meaning penis. The pizzle was originally intended for flogging, similarly to a bullwhip. However, over the years it became a food. For example, it can be dried and turned into a paste for soup. Jamaica’s cow cod is one example of such a treat. The beef penis has also been considered an aphrodisiac, having many dietary benefits as well. Rich in protein, calcium, magnesium and numerous vitamins, it has been considered a stamina booster by some. The Telegraph reported that athletes in China allegedly consumed deer pizzle during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to boost their performance.
However, the selling of beef penis as human food such as occurred in Texas is much more of a taboo. The use of the pizzle in a regular diet is not common in the United States. Here it is usually dried and turned into a chewy snack for dogs. It can be used to make glue as well. Like many culinary trends, the consumption of beef penis depends on the specific culture and customs, hinging on societal norms as to what is acceptable to eat.
The case in Austin is an example of confusing labeling. However, what American consumers do not realize is that many regular trusted products and brands also come from unusual sources. Bustle provides a few examples, explaining that a lot of pre-packaged bacon pieces for salads are not real bacon at all. McCormick’s brand, for instance, is an artificially textured and flavored soy flour, not even a meat product. Jello-O, on the other hand, is made of gelatin composed of collagen from animal protein found in hooves, bones and skins. In addition, health websites report that castoreum, a natural flavoring found in several products, is extracted from castor sac scent glands of beavers, located near their anus.
While many food flavorings and ingredients, particularly the natural kind, can come from unusual sources, they are usually at least recognized as generally safe for consumption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as castoreum. The beef penis sold in Texas, however, does not entirely count as human food. The attorney general has stated that the pizzle came from “non-inspected, adulterated and misbranded” packaging, which might not have been safe to eat at all. Although government organizations such as the FDA can try to regulate or advise the industry on the large level, there is little that can be done to prevent localized cases, such as the beef penis mislabeling which the attorney general claims was deliberate.
By Jakub Kasztalski