Perhaps you’ve had your fill of news stories detailing the recent revolt against “lean finely textured beef” — now known to the world as pink slime (bad band name). With retailers — including major grocers like Safeway and Giant — public schools, and even sodium-swollen McDonald’s swearing off the stuff, sludge manufacturer Beef Products, Inc. plans to close three of its four enormous plants.
A picky (read neurotic) eater who shuns all but the very occasional organic ground beef bite, I wasn’t a blink surprised to read about pink slime’s secret history (lean beef “trimmings” and other parts washed in a disinfecting solution of water and ammonia and liquefied by centrifuge) nor its sneaky function (to bulk up ground beef on the cheap).
But I have been intrigued and engaged by the larger country-wide conversation this controversy’s spurring. Parents up in arms. Nutritionists making their pro/con cases. Smart, nuanced blog entries reminding us to consider the obvious evils of other popular/processed American meat products, like the common cold cut, for instance.
Case in point, the excellent Salt blog at NPR.org featured a story five days ago by Eliza Barclay titled “Pink Slime Isn’t All that Different from Other Meat Products.”
In her detailed post, Barclay explains that even deli-style ham slices, a food consumed by Americans more regularly than beef, include similarly special trimmings (also emulsified). The semi-liquid meat rejoins the ham-sandwich’s equation to bind the cold cut into a smoother slice. Nice.
On the subject of pink slime’s questionable (but tricky to understand at first glance) nutritional value, Barclay quotes chemist See Arr Oh, who IDs both a plus and a minus: “There’s a good bet that we can’t get as much value from insoluble proteins (collagen and elastin, found largely in tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) as from their soluble siblings (myosin and actin, usually associated with muscle tissues). While these proteins may be hard to digest, on the plus side, there’s less fat in LFTB (~5 percent) than standard ground chuck (15-20 percent).”
Barclay closes with provocative thinking from Edward Mills, a Penn State animal science prof and meat industry consultant: “When you visualize pink slime, it’s about as processed a food as you can get,” says Mills. “But the food system that consumers should most be concerned with is the part they have control over themselves. The things you do in your kitchen are far more likely to have a direct impact on your health and well-being than the things you might be able to influence at the meat plant level.”
I disagree on one hand — I find the closure of BPI plants quite heartening, though I know that slime’s only the tip of the slippery iceberg. We’re not in the pink yet. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But consumer solidarity played a crucial role in halting the slime, which seems a natural sign for future change. However, I do appreciate Mills’ advice on cooking and eating mindfully (though I hate that catch-adverb) at home.
So, what are you doing in your kitchen to eat more naturally, reader?
And please don’t say bringing home Chicken Nuggets from Mickie D’s, because, while they might be hot and tasty, and while you may have learned via Fast Food Nation that nuggets are the only McDonald’s item 100-percent-sugar-free, each golden morsel contains roughly 40 ingredients, including dimethylpolysiloxane.
“Used as an ‘antifoaming agent,’ dimethylpolysiloxane is a type of oil derived from silicon,” notes The Healthy Boy blogger. “It stops the McDonald’s deep fryers from foaming up and boiling over. It’s also put in shampoos and used in the manufacturing of contact lenses. Makes you want to dive into a pack of nuggets right now doesn’t it?”
By the way, I highly recommend this online recipe for luscious low-fat chicken nuggets coated in crumbled Corn Flakes. (Fifteen minutes to prepare equals about the same as a trip to and from McDonald’s minus waiting in line. I swear they taste a lot like junk food!)