Thursday, March 29, 2012

One More Reason to Love Maggie Koerth-Baker

It's embarrassing how much I'm a fan of Maggie Koerth-Baker. I'm counting the days until my copy of her new book, Before the Lights Go Out, arrives at the local bookstore. I follow her on Twitter and read her on Boing Boing. I even thought about going to that sledding meetup she organized back in February, and if you know me, you know that makes no sense at all.

Her Boing Boing post today about the pink slime meat controversy only adds to my esteem. I wrote about the slime back in 2009, decrying the lack of quality control and the fact that schools feel forced to buy it because the need to pinch every penny.

Maggie points out, rightly, that there is nothing wrong with trying to use every part of an animal that is as expensive to raise as a cow, and she's right about that. Being squeamish about the slime's content of leftover beef parts, heated and extruded, is a bit too precious:

I'm not convinced that pink slime is any more gross than, say, what goes on in 3/4 of French Provencal cooking. Or authentic Chinese cuisine. Or, really, any cooking tradition that hasn't bought into the uniquely American belief that only the nicest parts of the muscle are edible and everything else is gross and unsanitary.
There definitely is an element of privileged, culture-based disgust in our discussions of the slime. And using ammonia in food processing may be fine; insert your favorite crack about dihydrogen monoxide here.

But there still seem to be some problems with palatability vs. safety. When enough ammonia is used to make it safe, lots of people think the stuff tastes funny. So there's a major incentive for the producers to go easy on the ammonia, as one Boing Boing commenter pointed out:
My understanding of why the pink slime is bad is that it's made from generally bacteria-contaminated trimmings, and if you use enough ammonia to kill the bacteria, the meat tastes terrible and is pretty much inedible. So the packing companies submit a sample of super-ammoniated beef to the regulators to show it's germ-free, then decrease the ammonia content in the actual product that they sell. So you end up with a product that will, if not cooked to death, maybe kill you. (signed by someone called Bob Dole's Commie Doppelganger, believe it or not)
It's not a simple issue either way, but I'm glad Maggie is keeping a scientific approach even on visceral issues like pink slime.

P.S. -- Last night, John Stewart exclaimed over the official name of pink slime: Lean Finely Textured Beef. I'm sure I wasn't the first one to do that, but I beat the Daily Show.

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