Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Pink Slime Plague


Millions of American parents send their kids to school every day with high hopes.  They trust the school system to take care of their children’s minds, filling them with a relevant education, but that’s not all.  Many parents also place their trust in the school’s dietary program to serve nutritious meals. 
But last week, a large number of American parents had their hopes – and some of their trust in the school lunch program – dashed.  If you haven’t heard about it in the news, there’s a new substance making its way into our children’s lunches, and it bears the wholly disgusting moniker of ‘Pink Slime’. 
Pared down to its most nasty parts, ‘Pink Slime’ is just that: parts.  It is the leftover scraps swept up from the butchering floor, cleaned with an ammonia-hydroxide wash, and mushed into a sludge that can be mixed into real ground beef as a filler.  The beef industry calls it ‘Lean Beef Trimmings’, but I call it inedible.  I can’t imagine that I would knowingly feed my children connective tissue and floor-picked scraps instead of fresh, real meat. 
In fact, ‘Pink Slime’ has been banned for human consumption in the United Kingdom, and is usually sold to dog food companies, so lacking it is in real nutritive benefits.
But the USDA – who stands by the sludge’s safety if not its nutritive qualities – has plans to purchase 7 million pounds of ‘Pink Slime’ to distribute for use in school lunches across the country.  And, frustratingly, much ground beef in the grocery store contains this nasty substance without being listed on any labels to warn us.  Besides purchasing your own cuts of meat from local farmers and butchers and watching them grind it for you, there’s not much we can do to avoid ‘Pink Slime’ in our ground beef.
But we can avoid it in our children’s school lunches.  If you are as grossed-out as I am about ‘Pink Slime’ being fed to our kids – in any quantity – the only immediate solution is to pack lunches at home.  It means we have to take an extra ten minutes in the morning to throw some healthy food into a bag, but it also means we know what our kids are being exposed to: real food versus cutting-floor offal that no human should actually consume.
There’s no need to steer clear of school lunches as a whole.  I believe some of what our schools serve provides a healthy supplement to meals children receive at home.  But take a look at the cafeteria’s monthly menu.  Hang it up where you’ll notice the days advertising anything beefy, and get ready to pack a lunch instead.  I have no idea if our local schools are currently serving lunches containing ‘Pink Slime’, but I’m really not willing to take the chance. 
If, like me, you sometimes struggle to come up with variety for the lunch box, think of it this way: almost anything you pack will be more beneficial than ‘Pink Slime.’  Pour last night’s leftover soup into a thermos.  Pack chunks of cheese with grapes and crackers.  Spread some chicken salad onto whole wheat bread.  Cut up an apple and pair it with a scoop of peanut butter.  Wrap deli meat and cheese into a tortilla. 
The possibilities for homemade lunch are endless and diverse, though they do take a bit of planning.  And I’ll plan until my brain goes numb if it means my children will avoid accidentally eating ‘Pink Slime.’

8 comments:

  1. Once again, so well timed. I was just looking at the difference in my two pounds of beef last night. 1lb of brownish organic ground beef from whole foods and 1lb of pink regular ground beef from stop and shop. Now I know why we have a difference in color. Ugh. Looks like Whole Foods it is from now.

    Thanks :)

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    1. I'd love to see a side-by-side comparison. Honestly, we don't buy much ground beef -- but this makes me afraid of it altogether! But I think organic is clearly the way to go from now on.

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  2. Check out Pinterest for ideas. So many great ideas.

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    1. Thanks, Laura! I'm always in the market for lunch ideas :)

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  3. I was so horrified by this story, which has been working its way through my Facebook feed lately. Our food system seems pretty off-- instead of healthy food supplied by farmers close to home, there's pink slime? Ugh. One great movement working against this kind of travesty is the Farm To School Network...worth checking out!

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    1. 'Off' is right. I'll have to check out that organization -- it's worth putting some effort into to see if we can change this mess. I felt like I was reading something out of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, you know?! People EAT this stuff! Mostly without knowing the difference. Yuck.

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  4. Absolutely! I'm very proud that my district offers more whole grains and veggies. And even some local foods, but slime isn't reasonable. Luckily, my daughter only likes pizza day, and they have turkey pepperoni on it. Still. What gets me going now is that the USDA may offer school districts a choice about pink slime. Which sounds good. Until you remember just how tight our school budgets are these days (and tightening more). No children should eat slime. No matter how poor a district they live in.
    I didn't know it was in most ground beef. Gross. One more thing to look closely at in shopping. If only all our grocery stores (and schools) were packed with wholesome, real food. At reasonable prices.

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  5. I know. And that's the thing, the food our kids get is part of a business, and money seems to rule the choices. The beef industry has huge influence over this -- which confuses me: shouldn't they be striving for quality and confidence in their product? But no: salvaging the nasty bits that would normally be thrown away saves them billions of dollars.

    And there was an argument on my article online from somebody who said we who choose to pack our kids' lunches are snooty. Because there are some kids who ONLY get food when they get it from school, and who are we to talk badly about that food if it means the difference between a hungry and a fed child? And I find it so sad that we feed our hungry kids the lowest, cheapest form of food. Yes, that school lunch might be all they eat for days on end, and even the meat with pink slime has some nutritional value. But...that doesn't mean it's fine. Just because the hungry children WILL eat it doesn't mean they shouldn't have better.

    Ugh.

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?