Monday, March 26, 2012

Why I'll Eat Pink Slime

Pink slime makes me picture this:
"She slimed me" by Jurvetson via Flickr creative commons

Not this:
"Impovised Petite Cullotte" by Arnold Inuyak via Flickr creative commons

But as I've researched the recent hysteria surrounding "pink slime", I've discovered that the reality more closely resembles the second picture than the first. So what is "pink slime," and why am I so okay with feeding it to my family even after so many people have been quick to condemn it?

Lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is, on the most basic level, the meat that clings to the fat when commercial cutters slice steaks etc off of large pieces of a side of beef. BPI, one of the nation's leading producers of LFTB, says that the pieces of beef they use to make LFTB are about 50% meat and 50% fat. To seperate the meat from the fat, they heat the whole thing up and spin it around. The fat melts and drips out, and the lean meat is left. The high-speed spinning they use to get the molten fat to drip out is what turns the meat into a paste. To fight e. coli and other bacteria, they spray the meat paste with ammonium hydroxide gas. This is the step that most alarmed me when I first heard about pink slime. But upon further research, I found that this isn't really what I pictured. I was picturing the gallon of ammonia I keep in my cleaning closet to scrub my kitchen floor. But this isn't that. This is a gas of ammonia and water, and by spraying the meat with a small amount, the pH of the LFTB is raised slightly, but that slight increase is enough to fight the harmful bacteria. The USDA and FDA both approve of this process. But what was even more convincing to me was the discovery that beef already has ammonia in it naturally, but not as much as many other foods. I loved this graphic:

Bacon Cheesburger

  • Bun - 2 oz = 50 mg (440 ppm)
  • Bacon - 1 oz = 16 mg (160 ppm)
  • Condiments – 2 oz = 50 mg (400 ppm)
  • Cheese – 1.5 oz = 76 mg (813 ppm)
  • Beef – 3.2 oz = 40 mg (200 ppm)

  • In other words, if the ammonia in beef is its biggest flaw, we are in big trouble, since most of us also eat bread and cheese!

    I know that there are problems in some areas of food manufacturing, included processed meat. But I honestly think that the process of making LFTB from the leftovers of fine steak cuts instead of throwing it in the trash is a great idea that keeps beef prices low and avoids unecessary waste of our planet's resources. BPI, for example, estimates that the US beef market would need an extra 1.5 million heads of cattle each year to replace the beef saved by the LFTB manufacturing process.

    Let's direct our anger and attention to those things in the food system that are actually genuinely bad. Like the fact that it is so much cheaper to buy Easy Mac than real cheese. Or the whole HFCS/corn sugar thing. The thing is, if anti-"pink slime" crusaders are successful, the result will be hundreds or thousands of lost jobs, millions more cattle killed each year, and more low-income families eating Easy Mac instead of meals made of lean ground beef like tacos and spaghetti. Meanwhile, beef will become an out-of-reach meat for average families, like salmon or lamb, because of its high costs.

    To me, that doesn't sound like an improvement.
    Pass me the pink slime, please!

    *I contacted BPI and asked them for permission to use their bacon cheeseburger graphic, and I mentioned a few other statistics from them. I was in no way compensated for this post. I do feel bad, however, for the hundreds of people who are probably going to lose their jobs because of media hysteria. Demand for BPI's products has already decreased to the point that 3/4 of their plants are closed for at least short-term.


    Diapeepees said...

    Great perspective. Thanks. I was kind of grossed out by the slime, too -- so it was good to hear another take.

    Crunchy Con Mommy said...

    that's the beauty of the internet, isn't it?--that you can read opinions and facts that you don't hear from the too-often-homegeneous mainstream media.

    I was totally grossed out at first-pink slime is an awesome phrase for a smear campaign-but the more I research, the more I'm convinced that this hysteria is totally unfounded!

    Cassie said...

    The reason it's so incredibly disgusting is because why should we have to clean the meat? The reason that we have to clean the beef like that is because if the terrible conditions they keeps the animals in. We buy meat from a local farm and they don't have to do that because the cows are out in pastures all day. Have you seen a conventional cow barn? They are literally jammed in there. They are so close and so dirty they are given antibiotics. Since they can't feed them grass they give them corn and soy which makes the cows unhealthy, unhealthy cows equal unhealthy meat. Unhealthy meat must be washed to prevent disease.
    Did you know a pastured cows fat is actually good for you? It is high in vitamin A and that helps you from not getting sick.
    The real crime here is the poor condition conventional cows are kept in. The unhealthy animals that produce unhealthy meat that in turn make us unhealthy. I would think twice about feeding that nasty meat to my growing children. The risk of contamination and disease isn't worth it to me, not to mention the toxicity in the fat.

    Cassie said...

    People buying good meat will not make bad meat out of reach for poor people. Buying good meat is like voting with your wallet and telling supermarkets that we want more quality products as affordable prices. There's enough land for these people to raise cows the right way.
    Oh and the FDA approves these things because people who sit on the USDA also own these large cattle farms. Talk about conflicting interest.

    Crunchy Con Mommy said...

    Cassie-thanks for your perspective. I agree with you that locally raised free-range organic meat is the best choice when possible. I guess my argument here isn't about commercially raised meat vs. local free-range meat, but rather that, if you are going to buy commercial traditional meat, LFTB isn't any worse than any other ground beef.

    Cassie said...

    That's probably true. It's really a shame that they can't raise animals how God created them to live.

    Sheila said...

    I agree. "Pink slime" is just super-frugal conventional beef. I use the teeny-tiny trimmings in my own kitchen -- why shouldn't meat plants use theirs? I think the ammonia gas is used in other meat products as well. It's kind of what you get with conventional meat.

    Since we discovered a local producer of grass-fed beef who sells for a comparable price to supermarket ground beef, I haven't been able to bear buying it at the store anymore. Our last purchase ran out and it will be awhile before we can get more -- so we're just eating chicken. Once you go grass-fed, you don't want to go back! But it does seem to me that the various kinds of ground beef you can get at the store are about the same. No need to scare people. (Incidentally, I feel the same about "mechanically separated chicken." It's just chicken that's been through a blender and a sieve. No, it's not pretty, but neither is any other raw chicken. I don't really see the reason for the scare tactics.)

    Crunchy Con Mommy said...

    Sheila-You are luck to have found that local producer! Ironically (since we live in the Midwest), grass-fed beef seems to be at least twice as expensive here :(

    Sleeping Mom said...

    I'm not a big fan of ground beef, or really any beef for that matter, so I was already planning on staying away in the first place. We buy beef rarely, and tend to buy it at least organic. Sadly we don't have many resources for grass-fed beef, even though we have a ton of farmers markets around us. For now, we'll eat beef on occasion and stick to organic. :)

    Crunchy Con Mommy said...

    Sleeping Mom-We rarely buy beef too, because it is so expensive. I am really worried that if LFTB goes off the market we won't be able to afford ground beef even. But I LOVE ground beef. In tacos, burgers, spaghetti, and lots of other dishes too. I will miss it a lot...but I hope that doesn't happen!