Icky Stuff

The last few weeks have been another tough haul for the purveyors of factory-farmed meat. A lot of really icky stuff has come out in the media that the meat industry would have preferred to keep hidden. And the public has reacted in a predictable way: when shown the icky stuff, they said "ick" and are now refusing to eat it. I'm speaking specifically of pink slime, but there was other ick to be had, which I will come back to in due course.

The pink slime story was first brought to light by famed chef Jamie Oliver, in the form of an explanatory video (originally sent to me by ever-vigilant reader MKM of London, Ontario). It showed how meat trimmings originally processed for industrial oil and pet food were (since 2001) being treated at high heat, run through a centrifuge to separate fat from muscle, then the resulting pink goo treated with ammonia gas to kill e coli bacteria and finally extruded into bricks or pellets which are frozen and shipped to meat packers. This "pink slime" as it has come to be known, is now in 70% of our ground beef. 

When people found out about this not-so-delicious-sounding food product, there was a hue and cry against it. The meat industry in the U.S. hastily assembled a press conference in their defence, featuring three state Governors and an official from the FDA, all of whom assured the public that there was nothing to be worried about. "Lean finely textured beef" as they would prefer it to be known, is perfectly safe for human consumption. Well, that's hardly the point, said the public. It's icky

Supermarket chains rushed to remove it from their shelves. McDonalds, Wendy's and Taco Bell all called press conferences to promise their food would never again contain pink slime. The school lunch program gave schools a choice whether to receive it or not, which most opted against. There were hilarious segments on the Daily Show (Canadian version here), the Colbert Report (Canadian version here) and round table discussions on morning talk shows, such as this one featuring Mark Bittman on MSNBC. The New York Times referred to it as The Pink Menace. Stephen Colbert called it a "reconstituted hoof and organ slurry" (see video above) and The Atlantic considered what's at stake for the meat industry (a lot). Within two weeks, two of the three plants where pink slime is (was) manufactured were shut down. 

Strangely enough, people don't like being told to "shut up and eat your burgers," as one commentator put it. They want to know what goes into their food - nay, they have a right to know it! Which is why last week's news about chicken was an even bigger blow to confidence about what's going into "meat" these days.

The New York Times reported on two new studies showing "that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic." The feather meal fed to chickens in China was even found to contain fluoxetine, also known as Prozac. The chickens already have their beaks cut off at birth to keep them from killing each other in the over-crowded and stressful conditions they live with, but apparently it takes a whole medicine cabinet just to keep them alive long enough to make it to the slaughterhouse. "Toxic Chicken is the New Pink Slime" opined Marion Nestle in The Atlantic. It all just sounds so icky, right?

As we find out more about where our meat comes from, we are collectively beginning to recoil in horror, leading people to cut back on the amount and the kind of meat they are eating. Some are turning to organically-raised meats (like Nicholas Kristof, the author of the New York Times story in the previous paragraph). But the most intelligent, sensitive, caring, well-liked, good-looking and fashionable people are turning to Meatless Mondays as a way to reduce the amount of meat in their diets. And today's recipe is a beautiful way to have a delicious traditional Mexican dish without even a trace of pink slime or arsenic. Enjoy!