Last week, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor wrote a nice article examining how the mainstream media has been complicit in smearing lean finely textured beef -- what critics are calling "pink slime." "ABC has covered the story almost round the clock in recent weeks with stories on 'World News with Diane Sawyer' and 'Good Morning America'," Gainor reported. Versions of the story have been picked up by dozens of major and minor newspapers around the country. And most television and radio news programs have covered it as well.
On Sunday, however, The New York Times's Andrew Revkin became what appears to be the first major media figure to debunk the misinformation campaign in a blog post entitled, "Why I’m O.K. with ‘Pink Slime’ in Ground Beef."
I agree with Texas Gov. Rick Perry on something — the nutritional merits of derided “pink slime” — the processed last scrapings of meat and connective tissue after cattle are butchered. Dude, it is indeed beef — a source of low-fat nutrition.
One of Revkin's sources, a historian and blogger named Maureen Ogle, explains the issue well:
"First a word about PS: It’s beef, people. Plain ol’ beef. It’s created by using a deboning process that removes every last morsel of flesh from beef carcasses. During the cutting, slivers and bits of bone end up with the beef, but those are reduced to mush in the processing that follows. ... In the BEEF industry, its use dates back to the mid-1970s, although poultry and fish processors were already using the technique. Beef packers began using in the in mid-seventies because, at the time, all meat prices, but especially beef, were in the stratosphere. ... So pushed by consumers on one side, and soaring costs on the other, meatpackers asked for, and got, permission from the USDA to use a “mechanical deboning” process that allowed them scrape meat off carcasses so that what had been waste could be eaten."
Although critics are calling pink slime an unsafe food additive that ought to require mandatory labeling wherever it appears, the fact of the matter is, lean finely textured beef is exactly that: beef. And, compared to other ground beef, LFTB is probably better for consumers. It is processed in a way that removes much of the fat -- thus the "lean" part of its name. And beginning around the early- to mid-1990s, following a foodborne illness outbreak linked to Jack in the Box hamburgers, processors began treating LFTB with tiny amounts of the common food disinfectant ammonium hydroxide to kill germs, thereby substantially reducing consumers' exposure to foodborne pathogens.
You might think that the food nannies who complain about high-fat, calorie-dense food served in institutional settings such as school cafeterias would embrace a product that is lower in fat and largely pathogen free. But you'd be wrong. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a self-righteous, elitist git who's been whining about high-fat school food for years, praised the pink slime propaganda campaign for getting LFTB removed from scores of school cafeterias. In an e-mail to the Associated Press, Oliver added, “I hope the U.S. government is also listening because it’s partly responsible for lying to the public for allowing this cheap, low-quality meat filler to be used for so long without having to legally state its presence on packaging.”
In a surprising move, though, the Consumer Federation of America took a positive stand, issuing a statement that "CFA is concerned that manufacturers of hamburger patties may replace LFTB with something that has not been processed to assure the same level of safety. We are also concerned about the potential chilling effect this recent controversy may have on companies who seek to apply innovative solutions and new technologies to enhance food safety."
Unfortunately, that seems to be precisely the point. Food elitists like Jamie Oliver and Marion Nestle, who seemingly has never met a new technology she didn't ridicule, aren't interested in promoting safe, nutritious, and cheap foods per se; they want us all to eat the fruits of some idealized, pastoral perfection -- you know, things that aren't icky. “Culturally we don’t eat byproducts of human food production," says Nestle. "It’s not in our culture. Other cultures do. We don’t.”
Our culture doesn't do that? What's next on her hit list? Sushi? Kiwi fruit? Kopi Luwak? Well, I have news for Marion Nestle: Our "culture" didn't eat those things either ... until we did. Cultures adapt, innovate, learn. That is, we try new things. And when we find things that work well, taste good, and are safe, we adopt them as our own.
In short, the attack on so-called pink slime is one more example food activists' willingness to attack and mislead consumers about whatever it is that they personally dislike, the facts be damned. So, I'll continue to eat ground beef products that contain lean finely textured beef. I encourage you to do the same. And if Jamie Oliver ever comes for my scrapple, he'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.