What is “Pink Slime”? You eat it in your burgers

I’ve been wanting to write a food post, and this is it. Yes, “Pink Slime” (my capitals) is an actual food product, or at least an additive. Consider:

  ▪ It’s productized beef scrap, and as bad as the name implies.
  ▪ Its source is the lowest of the low beef by-products, the last to be salvaged. Ammonia-treated. Dog food fodder.
  ▪ And the food-industrial complex, via their retainers in the USDA, are using poor children in the lunch program as forced (by poverty) consumers for this stuff.

Poverty; see, it works just like unemployment — keeps the supply-side economy humming.

All of this information comes thanks to a small aggregator blog that’s well worth checking out, anotheroldwoman. (By the way, that picture up there? That’s the Cuisinart version, not the factory product. Just saying. [Edit: Pic deleted.])

What is “pink slime?” ABC News (my emphasis and some reparagraphing everywhere):

Gerald Zirnstein grinds his own hamburger these days. Why? Because this former United States Department of Agriculture scientist and, now, whistleblower, knows that 70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something he calls “pink slime.” …

According to [USDA scientist] Custer, the product is not really beef, but “a salvage product” … made by gathering waste trimmings [beef “waste” is everything you think it is], simmering them at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle, and spinning the trimmings using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria … [then packaged] into bricks [and] frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef.

The beauty isn’t just in the salvage operation. There’s genius in the political operation — by which I mean the labeling:

The “pink slime” [additive] does not have to appear on the label because, over objections of its own scientists, USDA officials with links to the beef industry labeled it meat. “The under secretary said, ‘it’s pink, therefore it’s meat,’” Custer told ABC News.

About those USDA retainers I mentioned above. Think I’m joking? The Food Bigs really do own their own USDA. ABC again:

[T]he woman who made the decision to OK the mix is a former undersecretary of agriculture, Joann Smith. … [I]n 1993, BPI’s principal major supplier appointed her to its board of directors, where she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years.

BPI is Beef Products Inc., manufacturers of Pink Slime. They made “hundred of millions of dollars” from the stuff, all thanks to Ms. Smith. Again, it’s nice to own your own USDA.

Side question — Did she know she was going to ThankYou Street (that million-dollars-over-time board job) before or after she overruled the USDA’s own scientists? Three guesses why I’m asking.

And now, suffer the children for the profits of their Betters. Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice quotes the LA Times:

The USDA, however, says the additive is safe to eat. The department is so satisfied with the stuff that it plans to buy 7 million pounds of ground beef containing “pink slime” in coming months for the national school lunch program, the Daily reported on Monday. And that’s created a whole new stink…

Then adds her own comment:

And why would the USDA be so satisfied with the stuff”? Well, school nutrition programs are chronically underfunded—it’s only kids who eat the stuff, mostly poor kids whose parents have no political power—so frugality is important.

Can’t argue with that. “‘Lean beef trimmings’ for thee; the fat of the land for me and my friends.” The old old story.

Last item, note that cute, industry-created phrase “lean beef trimmings” that turns up in all these stories (click through; it’s everywhere). So here’s your market-manipulation lesson for the day.

Each of those words — “lean” and “beef” and “trimmings” — they all sound wonderfully positive. And the mind almost magically re-assembles them into a related phrase, the even-better “trimmed lean beef.” Yum.

But go back to the description in the first quote above. Pink slime is “lean” because the fat is centrifuged off. It’s “beef” only because it’s the unsalable leftover of cow, not mouse or turtle. And it’s “trimmings” in the sense of “here’s what fell to the bottom” after they removed everything English has a word for, like “steak” or “intestine.”

The triumph of marketing, folks. Those of you in grad school studying this twisted field, Uncle Straight Talk says, “Don’t drop out. There will always be work for you.”

(This is the video from which the above product shot [Edit: Deleted] was taken. “Product shot” — see, we can do it too.)

Updates: 1. Clarified some “ThankYou Street” prose. 2. Pic deleted.


(To follow on Twitter or to send links: @Gaius_Publius)

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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