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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by leaving comments on posts and by becoming a follower. More than a hundred thousand people all over the world have viewed the blog and that's great. But every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers! I promise, I'm not going to spam anybody. I'd just like to know who's out there and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing.

Grazie mille!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Pink Slime" Is "Good For You" and "the Right Thing to Do"? Give Me a Break!

I brought up the “Pink Slime” topic awhile back when McDonald's “officially” announced they were going to stop using it. My question then was, “why did they ever start using it?”

Jamie Oliver made me aware of “Pink Slime” about a year ago on his short-lived Food Revolution program. (Isn't it odd that the show was canceled after Jamie started rattling too many cages?) I think he made a lot of people aware and I think that's at least a part of the reason for McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell deciding to eliminate it from their products. Oh, they won't admit that. McDonald's has some cockamamie corporate excuse about being “consistent with our global beef supply chain.” Whatever.

I mentioned, too, that “pink slime” sent me straight to the store for a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid. Not that I ever trusted those “economy” packages of ground beef at the grocery store – you know, the five-pound tubes all wrapped in opaque plastic – but after learning that “pink slime” is in about seventy percent of the ground beef sold in American supermarkets, I was more motivated than ever to either shop at my local butcher's or grind my own meats.

Now come two developments in the “slime” story that make me question our survival as a species. The first is the revelation that the USDA – the government agency allegedly responsible for the safety and nutritional value of our food supply – is buying seven million pounds of the crap to add to school lunches. These are the same people who recently dictated that a homemade turkey sandwich fell short of their nutritional “standards” for an elementary schooler, who was subsequently forced by the “cafeteria food police” to eat the approved “healthy” alternative – chicken nuggets.

The second sign of impending apocalypse comes from a mouthpiece for the American Meat Institute, who proclaims “pink slime” to be “the right thing to do.” And a PR flack for “slime” manufacturer Beef Products Inc. chimes in with the opinion that the stuff is actually good for your kiddies.

The rationale behind these mind-numbingly, jaw-droppingly inane statements is as follows: the AMI wants you to believe that they are being all green and fuzzy by promoting “pink slime” because the manufacturer is using every part of every animal it processes, thereby decreasing by millions the number of animals slaughtered and thus producing a leaner, cleaner, greener planet.

When you finish choking on that one, try swallowing BPI's marketing masterpiece: according to them, “Lean Finely Textured Beef,” the “proper” name for “pink slime,” is good for school lunches because it “increases the nutritional profile,” “increases the safety of the products,” and it helps schools make budget, thereby enabling them to keep feeding cheap crap to your kids. Well.....the spokesperson didn't say the last part quite that way, but that's the translation.

You gotta love somebody who can sell bikinis in Lapland. But remember, too, that there was a time not long ago when tobacco companies employed images of doctors puffing their favorite brands in an effort to market the “healthy” effects of smoking. So pardon me if I don't jump headlong onto the “pink slime” bandwagon just yet.

And if all those people who used to point and scream about the links between the Bush administration and the oil industry would now aim their little flashlights at the connections between the meat industry and the USDA, the results would be quite illuminating.

Of course, the USDA itself is not without an opinion. They weigh in with the statement that “all USDA beef purchases must meet the highest standards for food safety.”

Okay, so the totally objective and completely impervious to influence folks that the Fed employees to monitor our food tell us that “pink slime” is safe to eat. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, even though I have my reservations about the safety of scrap animal parts that used to be consigned to dog food miraculously being transformed by saturation with a gaseous form of ammonia. You know, the next time I pump out my septic tank I think I'll send a honey-wagon load to South Dakota and see what the chemical wizards at BPI can do for it. Who knows? It may led to a whole new “safe” food source.

No, the larger issue is just because we can eat something, should we? I mean, what's next? Soylent green burgers?

Don't listen to the Big Meat man flogging the “nutritional” properties of “LFTB.” There aren't any. It's filler, plain and simple. Meat extender. Something to take the place of something more expensive. Meat byproducts. Dressed-up dog food. You know the stuff the butcher cuts away from your steak or your roast? The fat, the gristle, the silver skin, the connective tissue that you don't really want on your plate? THAT'S what they're grinding up and trying to sell you as a product that will “increase the nutritional profile” of your kid's school lunch. They run those leavings – and others you don't want to consider – through a centrifuge to spin out the solids. Then they run it through an extruder and gas it. What comes out is something like pink beef Play-Doh or meat Jello. But, by God, it's safe! Even e coli doesn't want to eat the stuff.

I'm sure the screws got put to the slime salesmen after McDonald's and Burger King jumped ship. BPI's still in business so somebody's buying their product. Just like the tobacco companies ramped up their overseas marketing after doors began to close in America, the purveyors of “pink slime” will find an alternative outlet. Somebody with an underwhelming concern for quality and an overarching concern for the bottom line will buy it. Somebody like the federal government. Or maybe your local grocer.

On the heels of the increased interest in “pink slime,” ABC News did a little research into where “slime” is sold. They contacted the top ten grocery chains in the United States and asked about their “pink slime” policies.

Safeway says it relies on the federal government to help guide them on food safety issues. But to their credit, they also admitted that they are “reviewing” the “pink slime” matter.

Ahold USA, parent company of Stop & Shop and Giant stores, issued a rambling statement defending “pink slime” then told ABC News that their customers can basically choose between “slimed” and “non-slimed” beef products. Just ask any “meat associate” for assistance.

Costco, Publix, H-E-B, Whole Foods, Kroger, and Tops Markets have all firmly said “no” to the slime. The remaining stores did not respond to the network's e-mails.

I made a phone call and determined that Harris-Teeter meats are also slime-free.

I can easily avoid “pink slime.” As I said earlier, I'm fortunate enough to have a good old-fashioned butcher shop nearby. I haven't bought meat from a grocery store in a very long time. I also own a meat grinder. It's just my wife and me at home. My kids are beyond the reaches of the school lunch program and my grandkids aren't subject to it – yet.

If you have concerns about “pink slime” in your kids' school lunches (or in your grocer's meat case), voice them. Be the squeaky wheel. Don't worry, nobody's going to cancel you like they did Jamie Oliver. Call your school, call your grocer. Ask questions, demand answers. There are currently a number of “No Slime” petitions circulating online. Find one – or two or six – and add your name. I was going to provide a link, but there are a bunch of them out there. Just enter “pink slime petition” into your search engine and you'll see what I mean.

Worry not, trusting citizen. “Pink slime” is “safe” and “government approved.” Need I say more?

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