“No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.” —former New York Governor Alfred Smith
Ears, snouts and lips. Had I known at the time, my teenage years might not have been so full of baloney, a time when coming home from school hungry and bread with mayonnaise and baloney fit the bill perfectly. Like many other teenagers, if the taste was okay I gave little thought to what the baloney was made of. Little doubt we all would have preferred roast beef or fresh ham, but for many families bologna was a popular alternative to those more expensive meats. And that remains the case today. Bologna is America’s most loved lunchmeat and the survey takers say that Americans eat 800 million pounds annually, only one part of the $3 billion a year lunchmeat industry. The most popular lunch eaten by Americans is a sandwich, with Oscar Mayer claiming that six million bologna sandwiches are eaten every day.
A staple food during the depression, bologna sandwiches have also been a part of school lunch boxes for generations, and are frequently served in jails and holding cells throughout the US. The name bologna comes from the Italian city, Bologna, a place famous for its sausage—a mixture of smoked, spiced meat from cows and pigs, mortadella is the original bologna and has a history dating back to 1691. The Bolognese original is a large smoked sausage, usually pork, studded with cubes of pork fat, peppercorns, pistachios and green olives. American baloney is a poor imitation made from low quality scraps of meat. Ranked among world meats, American bologna falls somewhere between canned sausage and the ham from a gas station convenience store.
An up-close look at this popular sandwich meat shows that it is cooked, smoked sausage made from cured beef, pork, or a mixture of the two and basically having the same ingredients as hot dogs. A typical recipe includes salt, sugar, pepper, and spices, plus a curing mixture that includes sodium nitrate. Smaller producers may use choice cuts of meat, but the large manufacturers use almost any part of the carcass, including organ meats, trimmings and end pieces from other meat processing. The meat is ground and chopped very fine, then pureed before machines pour it into casings. Like other sausages, bologna is covered in either a natural casing made from the gastrointestinal tracts of cattle, sheep, and hogs, or a synthetic casing made of collagen, fibrous materials, or even plastic. All bologna is cooked and smoked to pasteurize it, so it’s ready to eat when you buy it. A serving size of two slices is high in saturated fat, high in cholesterol and high in sodium. The ninety calories and eight grams of fat may sound harmless, but the sodium nitrate in those two slices carries the highest health risk.
In August 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved six viruses as a food additive to be sprayed on cold cuts and packaged deli meats. The viruses are intended to protect against the food-borne bacteria Listeria monocytogenes sometimes found on cold, packaged meat products.
Six million may be eating baloney sandwiches every day, but now and then even a sandwich-maven likes a switch. Here is a recipe for baloney soup that might offer an interesting change.
½ inch slice of bologna, chopped
1 cup chopped cabbage
½ cup chopped carrots
2 green peppers, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
1 cup canned or fresh tomatoes
2 medium sized potatoes, diced
1 onion, chopped
4 cups water
Bring the water to a low boil and cook bologna for 15-20 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for an additional 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
The online directory whitepages.com lists eighty-eight people in the US with the last name ‘Baloney.’