Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Soylent Pink, a/k/a Pink Slime and Its Kin

I'm assuming everybody has heard the Pink Slime scandal.  Pink slime, euphemistically called by its makers "lean finely textured beef" or "boneless lean beef trimmings," consists of beef scraps, sinew, fat, connective tissue, and other beef deemed unfit for human consumption, ground into a fine paste.  This paste is then placed in a heated centrifuge to separate it into liquid fat and protein paste.  Finally, the lean material is processed, heated, and treated with ammonia to kill e.coli, salmonella and other harmful bacteria.  It's extruded into blocks, flash frozen and sold cheaply to meat processors as an additive to beef products.

The term "pink slime" was actually coined by Gerald Zirnstein in 2002.  At the time, Zirnstein was a microbiologist for the USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service.  But pink slime didn't hit the public in the eye until spring of 2011, when UK chef Jamie Oliver, in his show "Food Revolution," gave a thorough airing of pink slime, how it was made, and how pervasive it was in American's ground beef products -- not only hamburger patties eaten at most fast-food chains, not only in processed beef products, but even in the ground beef you bought at a lot of grocery stores.

That's when the slime hit the fan.

Since Jamie Oliver's expose, numerous new services on TV, online and in print have covered the issue exhaustively.  ABC news did a whole series this year and showed how the public perception has made itself known:  Several fast food chains stopped using the product, and some grocery stores stopped adding it to their ground beef.  The backlash was so severe that the primary company making it, BPI (Beef Products, Inc.) closed down all but one of their processing plants.

BPI and others within the beef industry have protested the public image, coining the phrase "Beef is beef" (Remember Wendy's commercial campaign against McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, "Parts is parts"?).

Here's my take on what some call pink slime, but others take a step farther and call "Soylent Pink."  This stuff started out as beef unfit for human consumption.  Now, I'm sure that after it's been folded, spindled, mutilated and ammoniated, it's safe from a bacteriological standpoint.  I'm also sure that I could pick up a piece of poo out of my cats' litterbox and ammoniate it or irradiate it or whatever until it's safe from a bacteriological standpoint.

Doesn't mean I want to eat it.

However, the beef industry does make one valid argument.  We're all outraged by the pink slime . . . but have you ever heard of "mechanically separated chicken"?  Maybe you have, maybe you haven't, but you've probably eaten it.  If you've ever put a chicken nugget in your mouth, you've eaten it.  If you've eaten a hotdog or a slice of bologna in the past few years, you've almost certainly eaten it.

Mechanically separated chicken is the pink slime of the poultry world.  Stripped chicken bones are run under a high pressure stream of water which blasts any remaining meat, sinew, veins, connective tissue and gristle from the bones.  This appetizing mishmash is pureed into a batter consistency.  It's then used to make chicken nuggets or as an extender.  Now, let me add an aside here for fairness' sake:  McDonald's hasn't used mechanically separated poultry (MSP) for a few years.  They now use only white meat in making their nuggets.  But nuggets you buy your kids at the grocery store aren't nearly so finicky.  'Nuff said.

I bet you thought hot dogs and bologna were made with beef and/or pork.  Surprise, surprise!  Unless your hot dog is specifically labeled "all beef," chances are the first ingredient is mechanically separated chicken.  The same with bologna.  They may not contain any beef or pork at all.  And the quality of ingredients only go downhill from there.

As Alice Cooper would say, welcome to my nightmare.

There are, I guess, two important points to be drawn from this whole thing.

First, don't put any food blithely in your mouth without knowing what's in it.  Okay, when you're in a restaurant, it may not be easy to learn exactly what's in every bite, but when you're in a grocery store, you have no excuse.  None.  Read the F-ing label, and if you don't like or don't recognize something on that label, don't eat the product!!!  (Now, that said, I do have to add a disclaimer.  Our beloved USDA, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the pink slime counts as "beef" and doesn't have to appear on any label as an ingredient.  So yes, we were snookered.  We had no way to know we were eating this horrible crap.  What I hope we've all learned from this is to ask questions.  And if you don't get satisfactory answers, ask more questions.)

And second, learn to cook things yourself.  Yes, from scratch.  Want chicken nuggets?  There's no magic secret known only to fast food chains.  It's not rocket science.  Cut up some nice chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and bread them with parmesan cheese or nut meal or pork rinds and seasoning and make chicken nuggets.  They're delicious.  I should know, my husband and I have done it several times.  I've even made low-carb sweet and sour sauce to dunk them in.  Don't settle for inferior food made with dubious (to say the very least) ingredients.  Learn to make it yourself and eat it with a clear conscience.

The latest venture at Casa Logston is homemade sausage.  We actually took a fascinating and fun sausage-making class.  We have a nice meat grinder attachment on my stand mixer.  Considering what probably goes into bulk breakfast sausage, I see a lot of homemade frozen sausage patties in our future.  And by strange coincidence, I just happen to have a pork shoulder sitting there in the fridge.  Hmmmm . . .

Wake up and smell the Soylent Pink, people.

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