food adulteration

Pink Slime, Part Two

Might need to order one of these Hamburger Beds. Pink slime extra?

Other than looking rather pretty/disgusting, I continue to be puzzled by the pink slime outrage. Not that beef filler isn't nasty and something I'd avoid in general, but at least it is made out of cow, and we all already knew that cheap beef was cheap for a reason, right? Is it that it looks like a Dairy Queen nightmare, or that it's also used in dog food, that bugs us so much? (I do have a friend who will pop a dog biscuit every once in a while, just for shock value. Bet he's not too bent out of shape over pink slime.) And, as I pointed out last week, why object to the pink slime, when our chickens and turkeys (and their constituent parts) are regularly "plumped" with saline solution?

Messing with our food products, in order to make them go farther or look prettier, has a long history. Last week I was reading Christopher Kimball's Fannie's Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook and was fascinated to learn what turn-of-the-century shenanigans went on in the nascent food industry, from dying meat to make it look fresher, to tinting jams and jellies to make them look "fruitier," to coloring everything from pickles to pudding to coffee beans with poisonous (!) colors made from copper sulfate, lead chromate, or arsenic! We worry about artificial colors making our kids hyper; late Victorians wondered if those vivid food dyes would kill them!

Poisonous food adulterates continue to rear their ugly heads in places like China and India--remember the melamine found in milk and my own post on Chinese honey? But nowadays in America, our food adulteration tends toward the fillers, not the killers. This interesting TLC article defines fillers as "additives that help bulk up the weight of a food with less expensive ingredients, which helps keep the price down." As another friend put it, after having her first vegan "hot dog," "Oh--I guess it's all the fillers that give hot dogs their taste." Meaning, she couldn't tell the difference between the tofu + additives hot dog and the meat + by-products + fillers + additives version.

Besides lovely pink slime and other processed animal by-products, most meat fillers are starchy or fibrous in nature. Yum, cottonseed. Mm, mm good, maltodextrine.

Still, if you're a purist, stick to the organic stuff. By law, organic meat has got to be...meat. No fillers, no extenders, no "plumping," no dyes. Our grass-fed options at the Market are the real McCoy. I figure, if my family eats pastured meat from farmers I know 80% of the time, that Costco burger at the summer swim meet and that mystery meal in the school cafeteria matter much, much less.

Honey, I Adulterated the Goods

Someday someone will make a thriller about the global honey market. It's got everything: a dying species (Apis mellifera), failing supply, growing demand scheduled to pass 1.9 million metric tons by 2015, and people eager to make a buck by stretching or adulterating the goods. Mwahahahahahaha!

I posted on the topic of honey here after I watched The Vanishing of the Bees, but after seeing some of the recent news I am compelled to write again. With the US honey harvest at a record low, the temptation is great for food manufacturers to get their honey somewhere--anywhere. Journalist Andrew Schneider, who regularly reports for Food Safety News, estimates 60% of honey imported to the United States originates in Asia, "traditional laundering points for Chinese honey." What's the big deal with Chinese honey? Well, not only may it be "stretched" with additives like sugar- or corn-derived syrups, but it may also be "tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals." In order to hide its origin, the honey is "ultra-filtered" to remove telltale pollen. The European Union has banned imports of honey from India to stem this tide of bad goods, leaving the wave to wash over the laxer United States.

There's no dark, twisting, thriller trail to the 136 ozs of honey in my house (we like our honey). Every last ounce comes from Daniel's Honey or Cascade Natural Honey at the Bellevue Farmers Market. In both cases I spoke with my beekeeper. I learned something about the bees' travel and pollination schedules (hint--they get around more than I do, including trips to California to pollinate the almond crop), and what makes a honey a certain "variety" like Blackberry, Wild Flower, or Knotweed. Genuine, unadulterated, local honey.

Although we're in the Market off-season, local honeys by small producers can still be found at some grocery stores. PAY THE EXTRA MONEY. If the honey is cheap or comes in a squeezable plastic bear or as a flavoring in processed goods, chances are you're getting the fake, antibiotic-laden imported stuff. Real honey is not cheap. A bee, in its lifetime, makes about 1-2 teaspoons of honey. It takes 10,000 worker bees to gather one pound of honey, and they fly the equivalent (each) of twice around the world to gather that pound. But the result is pure goodness. Not only has honey been used as a sweetener worldwide for eons, it has also been a cornerstone of ancient medicines for its health properties. Stick that in your sugar cane and smoke it!

So, I've gotten the bad honey out of the house. The New Year's resolutions? Avoiding the processed foods that contain it and reading this book:

Hope you'll join me!