Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pink slime revisited

On May 11, 2011 I published my first post about pink slime (the familiar name for ammoniated boneless lean beef trimmings). This particular item has received quite a bit of attention in the press, on Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”, the movie “Food, Inc.”, and the blogospere in general. As a reminder, pink slime is meat particulates that have been spun in a centrifuge to separate out the fat, treated with ammonium hydroxide (to kill pathogens like E. coli), and frozen in blocks or chips. The end product is then shipped out to be mixed into ground beef for fast food, school lunch meat, and even grocery store sale to consumers.

In an interesting turn of events, some fast food chains have dropped the use of this filler product, and the backlash has begun. One article defends “supplementary beef  protein”, and bemoans discontinuing use of this “perfectly edible, highly functional ammonia-treated beef protein”. Activists are being accused of undermining public health by using the “ick” factor to destroy food innovations intended to protect consumers.

I find it interesting that we as consumers are expected to just close our eyes and open our mouths and say ‘ah’. Obviously the food giants knew that people would not want to eat this product, or they would have clearly labeled products and invited the public in to see what they were up to, and THAT is the point to what activists are saying to consumers. Personally I aspire to eat better than “perfectly edible”, my goal is to eat as much whole and minimally processed food as possible. I have chosen to really look at the reality of food, and the quality of the life of the animals and workers that help bring food to my table.

Is it surprising that the beef industry is angry at the people that have exposed the process to public scrutiny? certainly not. After all, there is little doubt that the trimmings, once considered only useful for dog food, became more profitable when they found a way to render them fit for human consumption. They are angry that some people are walking away, and they are losing money, but they are overlooking the fact that we have the right to know the details so that we can make an informed choice.

I am reminded of that old movie “Soylent Green”, the 1973 movie based in the 2022 New York. Population has exploded, food is limited, and the Soylent Corporation produces green wafers touted to be high energy food from plankton (they also make Soylent Red and Yellow, with the Green being more rare, but I digress). However, in the movie, the plankton has died off, and the company makes Soylent Green from the corpses of dead people (recall Charlton Heston’s famous line, “Soylent Green is PEOPLE, it’s people I tell you!”). Obviously the idea is still an exaggeration, even compared to current concerns, but the basic idea of knowing the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of our food system is a valid approach. When we were children, it was okay to keep certain details from us, but we’re big boys and girls now, and some of us want to know the truth.

The fact that some of the fast food industry has rejected ammoniated filler is one step towards better food, and proves the power of the consumer. When the details came out, when the discussions began, and when the public made their feelings known,  changes resulted. Still, there are many more changes that we need to make in our food system, and every dollar spent is a vote towards the future of food.

Vote wisely, keep well.

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