I recently returned from a cruise to the Bahamas aboard the Norwegian Jewel. One of the downsides of the cruise was that the Jewel is a Nickelodeon-themed ship. This, combined with the trip’s proximity to spring break for some school districts, meant there were lots of kids on this ship, and plenty of talk about kids getting “slimed.”
As the parent of grown children, I don’t have a lot of experience with Nickelodeon or its “slime.” Apparently kids love getting this green gook dumped all over them and their parents, for the most part are fine with it too. Whatever tickles your fancy, I guess.
Back in the office, and throughout the foodservice industry, much of the conversation—both before I left and since I’ve returned—has been about another kind of “slime,” otherwise known as lean finely textured beef or LFTB. This “slime” is pink, and most parents don’t want their children anywhere near it.
LFTB consists of the final bits of useful byproduct from cow carcasses. The mixture is heated, whirled in a centrifuge to extract the fat and treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill harmful bacteria. LTFB is added to ground beef as a filler, both to reduce cost and—ironically—to make the beef healthier by making the beef safer to eat and reducing the fat content.
Marion Nestle, the highly respected New York University professor who has authored several books and myriad articles on food safety and nutrition, recently made “pink slime” the topic of her "Food Matters" column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Her take? LFTB solves a couple of problems but creates a public relations nightmare.
According to Nestle, using LFTB has several benefits. For example, it “recovers 10 to 12 [additional] pounds of edible lean beef from every animal and is said to save another 1.5 million animals from slaughter.” In her column, she went on to say that ground beef containing LFTB rarely, if ever, is found to be contaminated with E. coli.
The problem, she says, is not a health issue but a societal one: “Calling LFTB 'pink slime' presents a massive public relations problem. Human culture determines what is socially acceptable to eat. Most of us don’t eat the parts of animals our culture considers inedible. LFTB is not really slimy and it is reasonably safe and nutritious. But it violates cultural norms.”
This is not unique to current society, or even to the U.S. Every culture and every society throughout history has set down rules for social acceptability. The Jewish religion has several dietary laws, borne out of food safety issues, that non-Jews might consider quaint or outdated. But they are an indelible part of Jewish heritage.
There are foods our parents and grandparents, products of the Great Depression, would eat that many of us look at with disdain, and the same is true of foods from some “foreign” cultures.
Historians and anthropologists often remark on, and sometimes applaud, the ability of previous societies to make valuable use of parts of plants and animals that people in today’s world toss aside. Sometimes, this ability comes full circle. My father would gather the weeds we would scythe in the far reaches of our backyard and burn them. Today, a growing number of people are taking that "waste" and composting it—just as our ancestors once did. Doubtless there are old folks who look at "pink slime" and say, “what’s the problem?”
I don’t know what to make of the LFTB controversy. What should be the controlling factor, culture or cost? Have we overreacted to this issue? Have the media squelched all rational discussion by scandalizing a useful product with the pejorative “pink slime,” or have they done society a favor by exposing an offensive practice?
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