March 2012 Archives

Pink Slime and human nature

Once again, this story is going around. And once again, all I see is meat eaters freaking out about eating meat.

For those of you unfamiliar: When all the meat possible is removed by hand from an animal post-slaughter, the bones, along with other parts that edible meat is sticking to, go through a process of mechanical separation, separating the very small leftover meat from the non-edibles. This mechanically separated meat is then used as a filler in other meat products. 

Sounds kinda disgusting, but no worse than the rest of the slaughtering process. And generally, I feel that anything that produces less waste is a good thing (and so do the meat processors, I imagine). But seeing the above photo, masses of internet citizens (vegetarians and meat eaters both, though I've seen more from the meat eaters) have collectively freaked out about it.

I really don't see it as being much different from most other ground meat preparations, honestly. The beef version typically has ammonium hydroxide (an USDA-approved antimicrobial) added to kill e. coli, while the pork and chicken versions don't. This is also freaking people out, generally those who don't know about the hundreds of chemicals already fed to and used in the slaughter of animals. Hint: You don't want to know.

There are, of course, other processes out there for dealing with leftover bits of meat. After you kill an animal and remove all the meat you can, many processors boil the bones to extract tiny bits of meat. This also serves to de-marrow the bones, break down the skin and connective tissue, etc. This process converts natural collagen into a type of gelatin, thickening the mixture as well. Sounds disgusting too, yes? Well, I've just described the horrible process that your grandmother used to make chicken or beef stock in her own kitchen. That monster!

We have a weird tendency in our society to freak out about meat if it doesn't look like what we think meat should look like (a steak, a cooked chicken breast, etc). Once it's dead animal flesh, we should use all we can. The truly horrible parts of the process exist mainly in the treatment and slaughter of the animals, but that part doesn't seem to phase people. As long as the muscle tissue looks like what we expect the muscle tissue to look like on our plate, it's delicious. But when we get a glimpse into the process, we're forced to think about it. 

Maybe that's for the best.

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