Written by Noemi Pollack on April 4, 2012.
The problem with “pink slime” is that it is not all that pink and that it is not really all that slimy. Moreover, if you are an adult that is not a vegetarian or vegan, chances are that you have enjoyed your hamburgers for at least 30 years with the “whatchamecall it” in it.
But the bigger issue is how quickly the flood of unsubstantiated fear can spread. By now pink slime has become so engrained in how we speak about it, that most can probably not remember how the damned thing got started.
First coined by a federal microbiologist as “pink slime” a few years ago, (referring to the product known as lean, finely textured ground beef), the labeling hardly made a dent among consumers, that is, until Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver, on the season premiere of his now-cancelled ‘Food Revolution’ TV program (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wshlnRWnf30), referred to “pink slime” on the broadcast platform and exacerbated the damage by stating that it contained E. coli and Salmonella that had been treated with ammonia.
Ick. Not a pretty picture. We now know that Oliver took gross liberties with the truth for emotional impact. It makes good TV entertainment and what’s more, remains memorable. But it also unleashed rampant consumer fear.
From that point on, ‘pink slime’ went viral and, amidst a chorus of condemnation, the “ick” factor kicked in and took over – with damaging results. Beef Products Inc. (BPI) became its victim. BPI saw demand for its ground beef products slashed and, as a consequence, slashed jobs.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad came to the Iowa-based company’s defense calling for a congressional investigation into how what he called “a smear campaign” against the meat product commonly called “pink slime” got started. He added. “If they get by with this, what other food products are they going to attack next?”
Edward Mills, associate professor of dairy and animal science at Penn State University, said it best, “People have become so separated from their food that the things that what we food scientists, and food processors, take as normal day-in, day-out activities, all of a sudden are shocking to people.”
Look, it cannot come as a shock even to the most sensitive foodies among us that most of our food, from cheese to packaged goods to meats, undergoes ‘processing’ and that preservative chemicals are part of it. Just look at how long American cheese stays fresh in the fridge in its wrappers, for example. That couldn’t just be a “normal kind of untreated” food. But it’s still in most household’s fridges.
It could simply have been that “what we don’t know doesn’t bother us.” Now we know and it continues to bother us…
The “ick” factor of pink slime hovers around in our consciousness. Even Wendy’s ran an ad across national newspapers saying, “We’ve never used pink slime and we never will.” What are they proud not to use, when “it” has been around for upwards of 30 years and tested as a safe product? Opportunistic, I would say…
The word itself is so slimy that it becomes repulsive and can impact judgment as to next action steps. The “ick” factor could catapult lack of trust in our food and Agricultural Department safety nets. It could also seep into our language and become a symbol for all that is not good as in a verb — “they pink slimed it” or an adverb –“the old car looks pink slimly.” You know what I mean…
Let’s keep some perspective on what could become everybody’s nightmarish reality — if left uncontrolled.