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Words in the news: Pink slime

TV news presents a new reason for us to be scared: Pink slime, a beef product used as filler in hamburger meat. “Pink slime” oozed into the public conversation this month thanks to a series of reports by ABC News. It’s a phrase powerful enough to make Americans reluctant to eat hamburger!

Here’s the March 7 report from ABC that seems to have started this recent wave of interest:

“Gerald Zirnstein grinds his own hamburger these days. Why? Because this former United States Department of Agriculture scientist and, now, whistleblower, knows that 70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something he calls ‘pink slime.’ ‘Pink slime’ is beef trimmings. Once only used in dog food and cooking oil, the trimmings are now sprayed with ammonia so they are safe to eat and added to most ground beef as a cheaper filler. It was Zirnstein who, in an USDA memo, first coined the term ‘pink slime’ and is now coming forward to say he won’t buy it.”

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“Pink slime” is not an industry term. The proper phrase is the more palatable “boneless lean beef trimmings.” Doesn’t sound so bad.

So what’s everybody’s beef with slime? Is the stuff inedible or dangerous? The USDA doesn’t think so. But it’s a cheaper grade of food than what people think they’re buying. It’s also been treated with ammonia, which is a little hard to justify to an average consumer. Food companies can include this treated beef ingredient in ground beef without disclosing what it is.

It’s not the first time “pink slime” has been scorned in public. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution also drew attention to it last year.

On thing interesting about Jamie Oliver’s segment is how similar “pink slime” looks to regular ground beef. In fact, you could accurate describe hamburger meet as pink and as slime. Hamburger is also cheap and, when presented poorly, kind of gross.

“Pink slime” is a loaded phrase designed to provoke outrage, and we can blame television for popularizing it. Maybe it should provoke outrage. But so should most mass-produced foods, which are filled with unpalatable additives. Given facts about the food industry, we turn away from the tasty things we love, revolted by hamburgers. And yet we can’t stop eating them.

Now, who want’s a Doritos Locos Taco?

Ground beef photo © Smit/Shtterstock.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Language

One comment

  1. Roger Smith says:

    I have traded feed ingredients since 1968 including all the animal by products. This is a processed by product. Trimmings are heated at a low temp.-then centrifuged to get the tallow (fat) out. U.S.D.A. is wrong in allowing a processed product to be incorporated into FRESH ground beef. Fine in hot dogs, wurst,bologna,sandwich meat–but not in FRESH GROUND BEEF! The U.S.D.A. meat inspection is wrong in allowing this!

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