In case you haven’t heard somewhere on the blogosphere, or in the news, or at your grocery store, there has been quite an uproar about something called pink slime. Pink slime is a meat product that was previously used in just about every ground beef product you can think of. You can find out more about what pink slime is here. The short version is that pink slime contains meat trimmings that used to be used for pet food and (oh yum) ammonia. The USDA contends that pink slime is safe; personally, I’m pretty sure that I don’t really want to eat ammonia. The film Food, Inc., Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and Diane Sawyer have all taken on pink slime; the public responded to the information and now food purveyors are responding as well. Today Washington D.C. supermarket chain Giant joins a list of many other stores that have decided not to carry products that contain pink slime.
For me, this whole brouhaha shines a light on a couple of extremely important lessons. Lesson 1: You can’t assume that you know what’s in that package you’re buying. What could have seemed more simple than buying a package of ground beef? As with all other purchasing decisions – buyer beware. Food manufacturers are trying to make a profit just like every other corporation. While it would certainly not be in their best interest to make you ill, it is in their best interest to increase that profit margin. Increasing profit margins may well mean including ingredients that you would not choose to use. Lesson 2: food consumers are a powerful bunch. In the past several months, huge companies such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart have changed their positions on pink slime in response to consumer outrage and demand. School systems are changing their lunch food purchases. Democracy is not just about who we vote for, but what we demand of all of our systems. Democracy may well mean calling your school board about a school lunch; democracy may well mean educating yourself on USDA rules, asking questions about their decisions. Making the market work for you may well mean refusing to buy food from establishments that cut corners to the detriment of your family’s health. This is about more than ground beef. Regardless of how you feel about pink slime, remember that there is power in each item you pick up at the store, that the limits on what stores offer us have EVERYTHING to do with what we are willing to accept.