You may have heard the disturbing news recently about “pink slime”.  If you need a recap, pink slime is “officially called ‘Lean Finely Textured Beef’ and is made of chemically treated meat scraps and connective tissue.  The USDA claims the chemically treated ‘Lean Beef Trimmings’ meets high safety standards, and the ammonium hydroxide is used at the lowest levels possible to kill bacteria” (abc4.com).  It is manufactured by Beef Products, Inc.  However, Great Britian has banned pink slime as not fit for consumption; there, it is used for dog food and cooking oil.

Pink slime is largely comprised of the connective tissue of a cow.  It is mixed with ammonia in an attempt to reduce the chance of salmonella and E. coli; then, it is mixed with the ground beef as a filler to stretch the beef.

The result?

Adding pink slime reduces the price of ground beef per pound by “about three cents a pound”  (The Huffington Post).  It is included in 70% of the beef sold in grocery stores and school cafeterias.  Until recently, McDonald’s was also using pink slime, though they have recently stopped.

In Defense of Pink Slime

Despite all of the recent concern, Chuck Jolley, president of a marketing and public relations firm and president of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, defends pink slime as a safe product and says pink slime is  “a very low-cost additive and it is as close to an absolutely safe product as humanly possible to produce” (Food Safety News).  He goes on to cite Keith Nunes, executive editor of Food Business News as saying the meat is exposed to “ammonium hydroxide, designated as ‘generally recognized as safe’ for use in food by the Food and Drug Administration in 1974 and it has been used as a leavening agent in baked foods as well as a way to manage the pH in many types of food products since then. (Food Safety News).

I don’t know about you, but no amount of reassurance can make me want to eat ammonia.

Does the Government Have Our Best Interests In Mind?

ABC Nightly News reporter Jim Avila discovered that the woman who approved the use of pink slime for human consumption in the United States, Joann Smith, was the undersecretary of agriculture at the time.  Interestingly, when Joann Smith “stepped down from the USDA in 1993, BPI’s [Beef Products, Inc.] principal major supplier appointed her to its board of directors, where she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years.

Other Foods – Other Causes for Concern

Pink slime is the hot topic in the news right now, but there are many other products that are cause for concern.  Just last week Coke and Pepsi announced that they would be changing their recipe to avoid having to put a label on their product saying it may cause cancer.

The culprit?

Caramel coloring, which also contains ammonia.  The Inquisitr explains, “’When most people see ‘caramel colouring’ on food labels, they likely interpret that quite literally and assume the ingredient is similar to what you might get by gently melting sugar in a saucepan,’ Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) executive director Michael F. Jacobson told the Associated Press.  ‘The reality is quite different. Colorings made with the ammonia or ammonia-sulfite process contain carcinogens and don’t belong in the food supply.’”

While the use of ammonia is a concern in products like pink slime and Coke and Pepsi, other products also cause concern.  In the February 6, 2012 edition, TIME Magazine reported that “researchers reported that exposure to widely used perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)—found in Teflon coatings, microwave-popcorn bags and fast-food containers” to name a few “may lower children’s response the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine.”

What is a food consumer to do?

While each person must make their own decision based on their personal feelings, my family and I have decided that it is worthwhile to eat a largely organic diet, even if it means spending more on our groceries, which will likely slow down our debt repayment plan.  Simply put, we feel the money spent to eat nutritious food is well worth the expense.

Here is what we are doing to avoid ammonia and other unsavory chemicals in our food:

  1.  Buy meat locally from a farmer.  Nearly every year, we buy a ¼ side of beef from my cousin’s husband.  We can take our kids out to the farm to see the cows; he has a small herd, and the cows are free to roam.  We know where our beef comes from, and we know that, unlike other processing plants, our beef is not processed with many other cattle.  Our beef comes from one cow only.  This year we are also looking at a meat CSA.  It is expensive, but again, it comes from a small farm not far from us, and the animals are grass fed, as they should be.
  2. Hunt, if you are able to.  Not everyone is a hunter, but if hunting is something you enjoy, there is no better way to stock your freezer with fresh meat than hunting the animal yourself from the wild.
  3. Use meat as a component of the meal rather than the main course.  While we do sometimes enjoy steaks, we often use meat as a component of the meal, such as one or two chicken breasts diced in a vegetable and barley soup.  We are able to get protein but keep our meat expenses low.
  4. Increase the number of meatless meals you consume.   Buying meat locally from the farmer is expensive.  To reduce the cost, we aren’t going to buy cheap meat that may be mixed with pink slime.  Instead, we have gradually begun to reduce the number of meat based meals we consume.  Generally, we eat a few bean based meals a week.
  5. Grow a garden.  Take the time to grow a garden in the summer and freeze the excess vegetables that lend themselves to freezing so you can save money in the winter.  There is no better way to give your family organic produce than straight from your own garden, and food doesn’t get more local than your backyard.
  6. Make your food at home. I know, I know, making food at home daily is time consuming.  I used to love the convenience of frozen meals and store bought bread.  However, since we have discovered that three of the five of us have dairy and soy intolerances, we can no longer buy many convenience foods.  I have to make my own homemade bread and my own meals to freeze to avoid dairy and soy additives.  There is no doubt that cooking easily takes an hour to two of my time per day.  Yet, we are eating healthier and we are avoiding many of the chemicals found in processed foods.  Cooking at home now is just a way of life, and I have to arrange my schedule to fit it in.
  7. Give up the idea of being an extreme couponer.  When you try to eat more naturally, you will find that there are few coupons available for foods that aren’t processed.   Sure, you can use coupons for toiletries and save, but you won’t be able to buy your groceries for 50 to 90% off retail prices.
  8. Hunt down organic bargains.  There are certain stores that cater to the organic crowd, but those stores can be quite expensive.  Instead, find stores that offer a good selection of organic food at a fair price.  My favorites right now are Costco and Trader Joe’s.  For the last two weeks I have been able to buy a one pound bag of organic carrots at Trader Joe’s for .89.  That is nearly the same price as conventional carrots; why wouldn’t I buy organic?
  9. Consider becoming a member of a CSA.  CSA stands for community supported agriculture and allows you to buy shares in a local farm and receive their produce, usually for 18 to 22 weeks.  We just joined a CSA for the first time this year and are looking forward to all of the organic produce we will receive.

Consuming ammonia is not something I want for myself or my children.  While eating in a more healthful manner may cost us a bit more now, we feel confident that it will improve our health and pay off in the long run, helping us avoid high medical bills in the future.  We are willing to slow down our debt repayment progress and drive an older car as well as forego the latest technological gadgets so we can eat a healthier, more nutritious diet.

Photo courtesy of BenFrantzDale via Flickr

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