Pink Slime – A Contrarian View

I am an emotional, passionate person.  As a result, I tend to launch into things heart first, leaving my head to catch up, if it can.  Sometimes, once my head catches up, it has to put a boot up my heart’s buttocks.

I wrote a piece in the recent past moderating my extreme position on corn and ruminants.  I will be following up on that in the future, but for now, let’s allow that piece to stand as an illustration of how I sometimes see an extreme and rush to defend or occupy the other extreme before my head and core values bring me back to balance.

It is what I call ‘balance’ that irritates the life out of both my liberal and my conservative friends.  I declare regularly that I am a Christian, conservative, Libertarian, Capitalist.  The first of those is my anchor and my compass, the other three are engines and rudders that move and steer my values, opinions and views.  It can make my ideas unnerving and irritating. I hope that they are also occasionally thought provoking and inspirational; perhaps even unifying.  Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

When the ‘Pink Slime’ obsession hit (I should say re-hit, because it’s not new information) the airwaves a few weeks back, I joined my voice with the choir singing songs of revulsion and condemnation.  I harmonized with the cries to ‘get that stuff out of our food system.’

I remember a few years back seeing a segment about ammonium hydroxide in either  “Food, Inc.” or “Fresh, the Movie”, I can’t remember which and I’m too lazy right now to research it.  I was repulsed then, and I’m repulsed now.  ‘Pink Slime’ was one of the final nails that convinced me we were on the right road by raising and processing as much of our own food as possible. That way we knew where it came from and what was in it.

“Pink Slime”, for those who have been incommunicado for the past couple months, is the nickname for the by-product concoction of mechanically separated animal parts that have been treated with ammonium hydroxide.  These are then colored, artificially flavored and mixed with regular ground beef, turkey, sausage, chicken, etc. and sold.  Pink Slime is a part of many brands of chicken nuggets, pre packaged hamburgers and sausages, etc.  It is also used by some fast food restaurants.

When the information recently (finally) caught the attention of consumer advocate groups, the fountains of the great deep broke forth in righteous indignation.

“This is unacceptable.  We cannot allow people, especially children to eat this”, became the war cry across America and visions of “Soylent Green” flooded the minds of Baby Boomers everywhere.

As a result, supermarket chains and restaurant chains fell all over themselves to pull the products off the shelves and pinky swear never to sell such unacceptable fare to an unsuspecting, innocent public again.

As mentioned earlier, I participated in the outcry. I have since moderated my view, being driven back to the bounds of rationality by my core values. Please, as you sharpen your knives and ignite your flame throwers, allow me to elaborate.

First, I think Pink Slime is disgusting.  It looks awful, it changes the nature of the food to which it’s added and it even has to be artificially flavored to make it palatable. In short, it is NASTY.

It has a right to exist, though.  The stuff has passed every food safety hurdle imaginable.  I hate the USDA, but in this case I believe them when they tell us that in its marketable form, the product is safe.  It is repulsive to look at, but it is not making people sick, per se.  (This is not the place to bring in health care costs, etc. Save it for another day, folks.)  We are not reading about School Cafeteria hamburgers and nuggets making kids sick.  Our ERs are not overflowing with football fans poisoned by imitation wings and riblets.  America was just fine with it until we saw what was in the stuff.  Millions upon millions are still fine with it, by the way.

It is not up to me, consumer advocate groups or the Government, to tell my neighbor what he can or cannot eat; or what he can offer as a marketable product for that matter. Can you hear the Libertarian Capitalist coming out now?  It is not for you or me to determine what’s too disgusting for someone else to eat.  I have friends from SE Asia, for example, who can’t stand to be in the room when Westerners eat dairy products.  It makes them sick to their stomach to think we’d eat something as nasty as cheese or milk.  They, though, are surprised at our revulsion at some tasty stewed monkey or a nicely slow roasted dog.  Vegans think we’re all disgusting.

I saw a video clip on YouTube of celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, demonstrating the nastiness of Pink Slime to a group of young school children by making some up right on the air.  They “yucked” and “bleched” through the whole process, right on cue.  The surprise came when Jamie fried the stuff up into nuggets then invited the children to dig in.  The gobbled them up with delight, much to the horror and surprise of Chef Oliver.

As the supermarket chains race to take foods containing Pink Slime off the shelves and out of refrigeration cases or freezers, we can almost hear the gasp at check out as meat and poultry prices climb.  In a single publicity project, we have priced cheaper meats out of the budgets of millions of households.  Before you congratulate yourselves on your good deed, stop as ask what lower income families will replace that meat with.  Do you think for one minute it will be Tofu or fresh zucchini and eggplant.  No, it will be with Ramen Noodles and grilled Velveeta sandwiches or Hot Dogs.

The problem is not the existence of Pink Slime.  The problem is the lack of transparency in advertising and labeling.  Leave the stuff on the shelves. Stock it beside normal ground beef. Label it clearly and let consumers make educated choices. That’s how America works.

I choose to avoid Pink Slime like the plague.  I’m not a fan of pigs eyeballs or chicken beaks under any circumstances.  I don’t care how sanitized or artificially flavored they are.  I raise and process my own meat (well, most of it) so that I know exactly what I’m eating.  That way, no one sneaks a ‘mechanically separated’ carcass past me by mistake. What’s more, I will do what I can to persuade you from ingesting that foul concoction, either.

If, though, you look at the impressive technology that makes these meat substances, and you have no problem consuming them, I say, “Have it your way.  Pass the mustard”.

To the stores, restaurants and marketers, I say, “You don’t have to take products containing Pink Slime off the market. All you need to do is label it and let us choose.  We know how.”

To the consumer advocates and whistle blowers, “Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.  You get a gold star.  Now, you’ve advised us, you’ve done your duty. Your business here is finished.  Get out of my dining room.”

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