Because the controversial USDA dietary guidelines tell Americans to shun animal fats, consumer demand grew for lean ground beef, chicken, turkey. Lean finely textured meat, a highly processed product made from meat scraps was then used to add moisture back in to lean ground meats. Pink slime, as it has come to be known, is essentially a fat replacement product. Health conscious consumers now realize that animal fats are vital to human health, and that grassfed meats contain healthy fats.
The Meat Industry Strikes Back, But Pink Slime Remains Slime
By Stanley Fishman, Author of Tender Grassfed Meat: Traditional Ways to Cook Healthy Meat and Tender Grassfed Barbecue: Traditional, Primal and Paleo
One of the most remarkable and encouraging events in the history of American food took place earlier this year. A huge public outcry was raised against a cheap, chemical-treated filler that became known as Pink Slime. Pink Slime was mixed with actual ground beef, and the resulting glop was sold as hamburger. Seventy percent of the hamburger sold in the U.S. contained Pink Slime. Most Americans had no idea that it was there. When the existence and presence of Pink Slime was spread throughout the media and the Internet, the American people rose up in disgust, forcing fast food chains, the school lunch program, and many markets to stop using Pink Slime, or at least reduce its use.
The Pink Slime industry was not happy about this, and has launched an information blitz on the Internet, hoping to convince the American public to embrace their disgusting product. This propaganda campaign is slick and professional, but it does not convince. You cannot make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, and you cannot make wholesome fresh beef out of Pink Slime.
It Takes More than a White Coat to Sell Pink Slime
A formidable array of industry-created posts, articles, and videos have hit the Internet. They seem to follow a common theme, no doubt designed by advertising firms, which is intended to convince us to accept Pink Slime in our hamburgers.
Most of these attempts, and all of the videos I have seen, feature a “food scientist” whose many credentials are listed in great detail, and who wears a white coat. The ad industry seems to be great believers in the persuasive power of a white coat. I think the theory is that doctors wear white coats, and that anyone wearing a doctor-like white coat will be trusted. There was a legislative session earlier this year in which four doctors testified. They had only one white coat between them. So, before testifying, each of the four doctors put on the single white coat.
In addition to the white coat, the scientist always has ties to the food industry, or to a university that gets funding from the food industry. Apparently, we are supposed to believe everything these scientists say, because they have credentials, because they are scientists, and because they are wearing white coats.
That does not work anymore. There may have been a time when the American people would believe anything said by a credentialed scientist in a white coat, but not anymore. Many of us have learned to think for ourselves, and will not be persuaded except through facts, valid arguments, and unbiased testimony. It is going to take a lot more than a white coat to sell Pink Slime.
The Slick Talking Points Have Fatal Flaws
The arguments raised by the white coats in favor of Pink Slime are all pretty much the same. I will list the most common ones, and my responses to them. I do not wear a white coat. In fact, I do not even have a white coat. But I have common sense and I can think for myself.
Talking Point. The product should be called “lean finely textured beef,” because that is what the industry calls it.
Counter Point. Nope. The public calls it Pink Slime, based on its appearance and the apt coining of the term by an FDA official, and that is good enough for me.
Talking Point. Pink Slime is totally safe, even though made from beef scraps heavily contaminated with bacteria, including E. coli, because it is treated with ammonia to kill the bacteria.
Counter Point. Even if this is true, nobody wants to eat a product so heavily treated with ammonia that it stinks and tastes of it. In fact, the amount of ammonia used in the product has been reduced because of complaints about the taste and smell. Many of us do not want to eat something that can only be made safe to eat by treatment with chemicals. And while the white coats claim that the ammonia used in Pink Slime is harmless, citing the FDA, no one contests that too much ammonia can be harmful, irritating eyes, membranes, and lungs, and causing burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach.
Talking Point. Pink Slime is nourishing and wholesome beef.
Counter Point. Pink Slime is made from beef scraps that used to be thrown out as garbage. Heavily contaminated by bacteria, often including E. coli, no one claims these scraps are fit to eat in their natural form. How can anything that requires substantial processing and chemicals to be made safe to eat be called “wholesome”?
I cannot think of anything that has to be heated for a long period, centrifuged, and treated with ammonia as “wholesome.” And based on the public reaction, most Americans agree with me.
Talking Point. Pink Slime is healthy because nearly all the fat is removed.
Counter Point. I disagree. According to Sally Fallon Morell, the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, meat should not be eaten without fat, and the fat contains valuable nutrients. Our ancestors valued animal fat, and so should we, if it comes from healthy pastured animals. The scraps used in Pink Slime are heated for a long time to melt all the fat out; creating a ratio of fat to lean that just does not exist in nature. To me, this is yet another reason to avoid Pink Slime.
Talking Point. Making beef scraps that would otherwise be thrown out as garbage into Pink Slime avoids waste.
Counter Point. The bigger question is whether people should eat scraps that can only be made safe to eat through processing and chemicals to avoid “waste.” Most Americans just do not want to eat this stuff, and are disgusted when they hear about how it is made, what it is made out of, and what is added to it. Pink Slime is made from beef scraps that are not fit to eat in their natural state. These scraps are garbage. People do not want to eat recycled garbage.
Talking Point. The public rejection of Pink Slime has caused factories to close and jobs to be lost.
Counter Point. This is perhaps the most valid argument of the lot, as no one likes to see jobs lost in these tough economic times. But that does not mean that we should have to eat Pink Slime. Many products are undesirable, and we should not have to buy them just to save the jobs of the people who work at the factories that make them. It is quite possible to make great products that people actually want, and industry should focus on that.
If Pink Slime Is Such a Great Product, Why the Secrecy?
While the white coats praise the virtues of Pink Slime, they do not explain why its presence was hidden from most Americans. After all, if this is such a great product, why not market it to the public?
Instead, the presence of Pink Slime in hamburger came as a total surprise to most Americans. The government does not require that the ammonia added to Pink Slime be labeled. The hamburger containing Pink Slime was sold as being fresh meat. It could not possibly be fresh, because the Pink Slime in the meat had been cooked to get rid of the fat before it was added to the ground meat. This is very deceptive, but the government allowed it.
But my main question is this:
If Pink Slime really is such a wonderful, wholesome product, why have we never seen packages of “lean finely textured beef” for purchase at the supermarket?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. Pink Slime was always intended to be a cheap filler material that would quietly be added to ground beef to increase profits. I suspect that a burger made completely of Pink Slime would taste and smell horrible, or have no taste at all. But I do not know that, because the industry does not sell the product directly to consumers. To be fair, there is no way I would even taste it if it was offered to me, because I know how it is made and what is in it.
At the end of the day, the industry just does not get it. We do not want to have cheap filler material mixed with fresh beef for the sole purpose of increasing profit. We do not want to eat a product made from beef scraps that used to be thrown out as garbage. We do not want to eat a product that has to be treated with ammonia to be safe to eat. When we buy beef, we want it to be real beef. When we buy fresh beef, we want it to be fresh, not mixed with pre-cooked filler. And no hirelings in white coats are going to convince us otherwise.
Pink Slime is a cheap filler material that nobody wants to eat.
Stan Fishman is the author of Tender Grassfed Meat: Traditional Ways to Cook Healthy Meat. His book describes in detail how to cook grassfed beef, grassfed bison, and grassfed lamb. The book follows the nutritional principles of Dr. Weston A. Price, and uses only the best natural ingredients. Fishman is a frequent guest blogger on Hartke is Online! see more of his excellent commentary on our Stanley Fishman page.
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This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival, see more excellent “dish” on Kelly the Kitchen Kop blog.