pink slime

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.

Of Pink Slime and Pollen

Mm-mm good photo, courtesy of Uptown Magazine

I first heard of the pink slime controversy over a turkey sandwich lunch with a friend. When she described all the beef trimmings and by-products being ground up to--well--pink slime, my first reaction was, "how economical!" How almost Native American of us, using every last bit of the beef. Besides, despite the 85% grass-fed organic beef my family eats, there's still the 5% of God-knows-what-kind-of-beef-and-meat-products we consume in our beloved hot dogs and the 10% of close-your-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best beef we eat out in restaurants.

"But they soak it in ammonia or something, to clean off the e. Coli!" my friend added, since I didn't look properly grossed-out enough.

"They've been dipping chicken parts in chlorine baths forever, and we all keep eating chicken," I pointed out.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm a fan of pink slime in kids' school cafeteria meals, but I figure anytime I let my kids buy lunch, they're eating Downed-Cow Stroganoff or Chlorine-Bathed-Overbred-Chicken Nuggets. I know it's crap, but I still let them buy once a week. And pink slime is edible, as much as hot dogs are, so I'm not gonna get too bent out of shape. Once in a while is fine. Not ideal, but fine. Check out this Food Safety News article for more information on pink slime's general okayness.

For those in the pink slime biz, however, I would recommend they hire a good PR agency. Look what wonders it did orange roughy, after it changed its name from Slimehead. "Slimeheads" didn't exactly fly off the menu, but we're all happy to eat orange roughy nearly to the collapse of its fishing industry. Would we be more willing to stomach pink slime, if we knew it as "Dairy Delight" or "Strawberry Soft Serve"?

If you're of the mind that pink slime by any name would still reek, it might be time to switch to organic, pastured beef. At our Bellevue Farmers Market, several of our farmers sell top-quality beef, chicken and pork. No slime, no where. When the Market opens May 10, get the farmers' opinions on the slime controversy. Ask about their processing practices. What happens to their by-products? I'm curious myself.

Speaking of the Market, another friend came for tea, and I offered her some local honey I'd bought at the Market last fall to sweeten it. Turns out she'd been at Pike Place Market recently, where one of the honey vendors advertised honey's effectiveness in combating hay fever(!). I hadn't heard this tidbit, but being a hay fever sufferer, I'm perfectly willing to dose myself, even just for a placebo effect. There are no published studies yet--just anecdotal evidence--but the recommendation is for local honey (i.e., local pollens), two teaspoons per day. Easy peasy. Can't hurt, might help.

Have a great week!