|"She slimed me" by Jurvetson via Flickr creative commons|
|"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:
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.