As a professional meat-cutter, I have been barraged in recent days with a single question that I am sure is echoing across the meat coolers of America. All day they call on the phone, ring the buzzer and grab my arm as I fill the case to ask in a panicked voice:
“Does your ground beef have that pink slime stuff in it?”
Where did this come from? We’ve known about pink slime for years. Basically it is recycled meat-trimmings that would typically be unsafe or used for pet foods that, through a patented process, is cleaned and sanitized for human consumption and labeled with various harmless sounding monikers like “lean textured ground beef.” It is used as filler in a wide variety of ground beef products. The meat-industry defends the practice as necessary for “affording cheap nutrition for a growing population.”
Many people, of course, have written about the questionable practice including the FDA official who coined the term “pink slime.” The process was even shown in disgusting detail in the movie Food, Inc a few years ago. Until a couple weeks ago, however, I had never received a single question about it. Somehow the issue, through a combination of media outlets including social media, reached a kind of tipping point. I guess it’s not unlike the recent lottery hysteria. When the numbers grow to a certain level—then everyone has to play.
Fortunately the answer to my customers’ question is “no.” For once my company is out in front of a trend. Almost two years ago, we started grinding everything in-store—out of fresh primal chunks of meat. Our ground sirloin is ground from whole sirloin tips, our ground round from whole bottoms rounds, and our ground chuck from whole chuck shoulder clods. Before that we used bulk coarse-ground chubs—long tubes of previously ground beef that we simply slit open and dumped into the grinder. I don’t know if they had “finely textured” ground beef added to it or not, but they were often slimy, gassy and stinky.
Our consultants and advisors were aghast when we made the switch. One group toured our store and literally gasped. Not only is it more labor and slightly less profitable than using pre-ground or gas-packed ground beef (with a shelf life of several weeks), but what concerned these accountants the most was the liability issue. By grinding our own beef, we are setting ourselves up for a catastrophic lawsuit. In the case of an e-coli outbreak most chain stores can just shrug and say—we don’t touch it here, therefore we have no liability. It’s one of those Catch-22s of the modern supply chain. By grinding everything in a central processing plant--where working conditions and sanitization is questionable at best—the risk of contaminating huge segments of the population increase, but the liability for the retail outlets is deferred, so the practice is encouraged.
There lies the rub. Many, if not most, decisions made in the food business today are not based on the common good or common sense, but on the whims of accountants and lawyers.
Pink slime, meanwhile, has the meat industry reeling. Several plants across the country have quit production. Hundreds of people have been laid off. One company has already filed for bankruptcy. The governors of several Midwest states have gathered to rail against this smear campaign against “affordable, safe protein.” They accuse the “twitter twits” of mass hysteria, misrepresentation and a general blowing of things way out of proportion.
Maybe. Never the less, people are freaked out. Not only are their hamburgers filled with disgusting fat scrapings, but they are realizing, maybe for the first time, that the people who make their food, fabricate their clothes, construct their shoes and brew their drinks give a damn about one thing and one thing only: profit.
Is pink slime really a way to provide cheap nutrition for a growing population? Or is it just another way to turn an extra buck? How much of it is imported to impoverished third world nations and how much is simply stuck in every product they can possibly stick it in? Increasingly we question the dynamics of our corporate state. Call us jaded, but we increasingly believe they will wheedle, lie, manipulate, poison, and scrape the last bit of fat off the last questionable hides to wring a few extra pennies out of the process–no matter what the cost to quality, ethics and morality. And all the while cutting pay and benefits to the people making the crap.
While many blame social media for the pink slime hysteria and claim it is indicative of the senseless, inaccurate, unaccountable, destructive, rumor-mongering that is running rampant across the internet, I’m beginning to think it’s part and parcel of a larger grass roots movement, including OWS, that is growing in this country. Like the guy from the movie Network, we have reached our limit and pink slime is our battle cry.
We’re mad as hell and we ain’t gonna eat it anymore.