Smearing Pink Slime

It seems these days the only thing we Americans love more than stuffing our pie holes full of ground beef is wringing our hands over "pink slime."

Pink slime, in case you've been out of action having a beef-induced bypass or something, is a ground beef additive made from parts and such, spun in a centrifuge, just like gramma used to make. My colleague, Jennifer Hemmingsen explains:

First, fatty trimmings once deemed suitable only for pet food or cooking oil are heated up and centrifuged to separate the meat from fat. The lean bits are compressed, then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill possible bacterial contaminates such as E. coli. The resulting pink goo is mixed back into ground meat.

Because it’s not technically an additive, manufacturers are not required to let consumers know if a product contains finely textured beef.

The trade name is "lean finely textured beef." But "pink slime" is the far catchier moniker coined by Gerald Zirnstein, a former USDA scientist who blew the whistle on his agency's do slime, don't tell policy. According to ABC News, he and another scientist, Carl Custer, urged the agency to not use said slime:

The “pink slime” does not have to appear on the label because, over objections of its own scientists, USDA officials with links to the beef industry labeled it meat.

“The under secretary said, ‘it’s pink, therefore it’s meat,’” Custer told ABC News.

ABC News has learned the woman who made the decision to OK the mix is a former undersecretary of agriculture, Joann Smith. It was a call that led to hundred of millions of dollars for Beef Products Inc., the makers of pink slime.

When Smith stepped down from the USDA in 1993, BPI’s principal major supplier appointed her to its board of directors, where she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years.

Yes, sadly, pink slime is a big business, not just a misunderstood additive. And the recent hubub has been very bad for business. Thankfully, Gov. Terry Branstad and other leaders of states that make up the nation's Pink Slime Belt have sprung into action:

The leaders of five states plan a visit to the only place where a beef product known as "pink slime" is still made, an effort aimed to support its embattled manufacturer, a company spokesman said Tuesday ...

Branstad spearheaded the plant tour. He told the Sioux City Journal that by touring the facilities, the governors and lieutenant governors are showing they have every confidence in the quality of the beef.

"They're been a victim of a smear campaign, and I think we need to do all we can to try to counter this," he said.

But what can be done?

I've been eating pink slime for years, thousands of pounds of it, as far as I know. And I feel great. Sleepy, a tad bloated, occasional meat sweats, but super, really. So if you need a spokesman to sort of waddle into this mess and take the beefy bull by the horns, I'm clearly available. After a nap. Pay? Well, I do take my pink slime with melted cheese and bacon. Hint. Hint.

But I think really what we have here is a simple branding issue. "Pink slime" is trending negatively among many key demographic groups, including humans with money.

Sure, people want to be fully informed, but in a soothing, pleasant way, and in very small print, that makes them feel empowered and hungry again for "lean finely textured beef," which is, incidentally, way too wordy. Surely we here in Iowa's Creative Corridor can help rethink the pink and change some stubborn stereotypes about undisclosed slime in our food.  

A few ideas I fried up:

Soylent Pink


Fluffy Beef, or Fleef

I Can't Believe It's Not Hamburger

Slime' de Rose'


Traditional Recipe


New Beef

Meat Magic

Prolly Beef

Fancy Bits

Liquid Steak


The Hunger Games

Still, consumers may continue to turn their snobby noses up at pink slime. But as NPR's food blog, The Salt, notes, wherever they turn, they may find more processed bits:

From an industry point of view, however, lean finely textured beef isn't a whole lot different from other products that end up in processed meat products, like ham or turkey.

Take, for example, deli-style ham slices — the kind of meat that a lot of Americans probably eat more often than ground beef. Edward Mills, associate professor of dairy and animal science at Penn State and a meat industry consultant, tells The Salt that processed ham also includes trimmings that are initially cut off the large pieces of muscle, and then chopped or emulsified. That semiliquid meat is then added back in "to help bind the meat pieces together so that the whole ham is nice and smooth."

Sounds sort of like how I prepare columns. Don't watch that, whatever you do.

Maybe you have thoughts, branding ideas or maybe even some recipes. Share. 

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