A very good friend of mine, a guy one of whose special areas of interest is food literature, some time back turned me on to the writings and work of Jamie Oliver (he also claims there is a bit of a resemblance between Jamie and me). So last night I was interested in watching a TV show in which Oliver attempts to get access to the Los Angeles Unified School District's schools, and get them to enact reforms in the kitchen. (A minor disappointment came at the end of the hour, when I realized that the viewer would not be given the full story that night, but that it was in fact the first episode of a series; I will be working on the night of the subsequent episodes. Oh well, that's life.)
I am glad I watched that show, because it opened my eyes to the phenomenon of the nasty "pink slime" now used in American hamburger in many places. This has been known for a couple years; in fact, it became legal in, I think, 2002. It was new to me, so the show led me to search for more information online.
What is this "pink slime" to which I refer? After the real cuts of meat have been removed from the bovine, what remains are all the leftover, in between parts. It is filled with pathogens such as Escherichia coli (aka E. coli) and salmonella, and has traditionally been considered unfit for human consumption, and relegated to use in pet food, and animal feed (the stomach of such creatures are made to handle these things). This slaughterhouse garbage (and I don't mean "garbage" as an invective or a metaphor, but as a realistic assessment of what this is) is put into a centrifuge, which separates the fat. Then it is processed in another machine, which makes of what remains a sort of paste, and mixes it with ammonia (yes, ammonia) to kill the pathogens (but which has not in fact prevented many cases of such contaminants from showing up in beef containing this product).
Interestingly, it was not termed "pink slime" by some obscure hippie blogger, but by U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein, who described it thus in an internal email in 2002. All things considered, it might even be fitting to use the term without quotes, and in capital letters.
Fast food chains now use this in their hamburgers (I do not yet have a list of which do and which do not). School districts use it. I am sure it also shows up in some restaurants, institutions, and potentially any business that might chose for economic reasons to buy beef from a supplier that carries this stuff. I hasten to add that it is in beef behind the counter at grocery stores, as well. It is worth asking the meat department at your favorite store if the "pink slime" is included in its hamburger. Keep in mind that you can also ask the butcher to grind your meat right on the spot.
I am not an extreme food snob (I don't think). Nevertheless, my first problem with this sort of thing is that it betrays and blurs the very notion of "food." That is, even if this were utterly safe, I would not insult anyone's intelligence by terming this "food." Beyond that, it is not safe. Beyond that, it is disgusting (and I don't mean "disgusting" in the sense in which some would think of the butchering of a cow per se). Prudence calls for a man to be reasoned and balanced in a matter of this sort. Hamburger is a good thing. But it is okay, even good, to ask what is in your hamburger, and whence it came.
I am going to make myself aware of this danger wherever I buy beef and hamburger, and will steer clear of the Pink Slime in my steer.
By the way, here is a link or two you might want to check, for your own information: