There's no shortage of horror stories about fast food: Chicken nuggets made out of bone-carcass-chemical goop; minced beef for tacos that resembles slabs of poop; sausages crafted from the blood and guts of pigs; a hamburger patty that looks exactly the same after sitting around for more than a decade.
In a food universe where the label “100 percent [insert name of preferred meat]” doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it does (makers of the controversial “pink slime,” for instance, have insisted that the product is “100 percent beef"), the actual contents of the meat products served at fast-food restaurants is sometimes a big mystery.
To highlight this gruesome phenomenon, visual artist Peter Augustus has launched a new project entitled “Mystery Meat,” in which he presents popular fast-food items — but with a deliberate (and grisly) twist.
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Augustus, who was born in Texas but now resides in Hong Kong, says it was, in part, his new home that inspired him to start thinking about food in a different way. “Arriving in Hong Kong for the first time, a city overloaded with visual stimulation, one of the most impactful scenes for me was the meat shops found in my neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun,” he wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. “[In the West] most of us seldom see anything that even closely represents what kind of animal we are eating when we purchase it -- it is always pre-packaged, nice and neat, showcased in an air-conditioned supermarket. Being forced to pass by these meat shops on a daily bases [sic] with their pig heads, intestines, eyeballs and hearts hung on hooks out in the open led me to challenge myself to view these shops as a normal place where actual food was being sourced every day, that ended up in my meal at a local restaurant.”
In his “Mystery Meat” project, which is ongoing, Augustus says he hopes to explore what seems to be the disconnect between many people in the West and the food they consume. His aim is to challenge viewers to think twice about where their meal has come from. “[With these photos] I hope to cause the viewer to take into account what the natural form of their food looks like. I think the work highlights a number of important debates, and it is not meant to be repulsive -- just to raise awareness,” he said. “It also touches on the longstanding debate of the quality of chicken and meat products and the use of unnatural fillers and hormones in the animal products we eat daily.”
As for Augustus’ own eating habits, he told HuffPost that while he does eat meat, he avoids fast food. “I seriously doubt that the executives at America's beloved chains actually eat their own products,” he said.
Augustus added that working on this project has definitely changed the way he approaches meat in his own life. “I now make an effort to know where and how the animal I am eating was raised and the results do dictate if I end up eating it," he said. "Not to sound preachy, but I think if more meat eaters did that, I think there would be less animosity from overly passionate vegans.”