‘Soylent Pink’ is Pet Food!
Yesterday, The Daily posted “Partners in Slime‘,” an article interviewing two former Food Safety Inspection Service employees about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s continued purchases of low grade meat. But is this ‘soylent pink’, as microbiologist Carl Custer puts it, akin to pet food? According to The Daily, yes:
Made by grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food and rendering, BPI’s Lean Beef Trimmings are then treated with ammonia hydroxide, a process that kills pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.
If that isn’t enough to get your hackles raised, this will.
The USDA wants to feed it to our children. That’s right, the USDA is purchasing seven million pounds of the table scraps you’d normally scrape off your plate to feed your dog for school lunch programs. Nevermind the questionable nutritional value of beef trimmings and connective tissue. Unhealthy food is nothing new for school lunch, they served pizza and french fries when I was a teenager twenty years ago, and Congress wants to make sure the tradition continues.
To be honest, the fact that they are using a household cleaner to disinfect the stuff isn’t what concerns me. According to GSFA Online, ammonium hydroxide is a common food additive found in cheese, soup, and beer to name a few. An opinion piece in Food Safety News suggest the public opposition to the use of the product, led by public figures such as TV chef Jamie Oliver, has more to do with fear-mongering than any real health risk. As a scientist, I can’t accept the idea that the use of ammonia at USDA approved levels is a health risk until some solid research proves otherwise, and according to the USDA, ‘soylent pink’ meets ‘the highest standards of food safety’.
But what about the highest standards of food decency? What really bugs me about the use of this ‘meat’ is the message it sends to American families and what it says about American society. If pet food companies sell food that says ‘I love you’, what does the food our public schools feed our children say? You can have good, healthy food, but only if you pay through the nose by attending private school. So go nag your parents to take you out of the public system if they can afford it (and how many of us can?) unless you want to eat the table scraps we serve our dogs and cats, because neither the USDA nor Congress care about your health as much as they care about the bottom line and keeping their beef industry buddies happy.
Kids have enough self-esteem issues to deal with without receiving the damaging message that, at least when it comes to lunch time, some in our society equate them to dogs.
To be fair, economic times are tough and even the government needs to find ways to cut costs. Nevermind the fact that we spend more on the military than any other nation, or that the entire 2012 Department of Education budget wouldn’t buy even half an F-22 Raptor (the USAF has about ninety as of 2009), or that we spend less than $3.00 to feed each school child. The truth is, low-cost food doesn’t have to be unhealthy and repulsive.
Yes, we can really have it both ways. My wife makes a mean falafel. Mind you, this isn’t just any falafel, this the Egyptian version, known as ‘tameyya’ in my birth country, made of a mix of fava beans, chick peas, and a number of herbs and spices and then cooked in vegetable oil (EDIT: See comments below for a recipe). And guess who eats it back home? Everyone. It is the lowest common denominator in the Egyptian culinary equation, most often eaten by the poorly-payed farmers and construction workers purchasing them in paper cones or eating them stuffed in half a slice of pita bread. So tasty is tameyya that though it is cheap eats (a handful of patties cost the equivalent of X dollars), you’ll still find it served on the neo-classically styled dining tables of Egypt’s elite.
To be sure, the low cost of tameyya in Egypt doesn’t necessarily translate to low cost in the United States. I’m not an economist so I won’t delve into that issue, but from a business standpoint, tameyya brings other benefits. While cooking up a batch over the weekend, my wife asked me to guess how much of her falafel mix she used to make fifteen patties. I had no idea of course, so I asked her to just tell me. The answer? It took four tablespoons to make fifteen patties.
Supposing three patties go into a roll-up, and the average high school serves 500 students, you’d only need 12.5 pounds of the mix to feed all the students. My wife tells me her mother has frozen the mix for up to a year, though in our house, it never lasts even half that time before we’ve cooked and eaten it all. What does this mean for storage and transportation? I’m no math wizard, so I’ll have to assume a cubic foot of tameyya mix is equal to a cubic foot of moist soil (which weighs 90 lbs.). Given these numbers, you could store enough mix in a forty-nine cubic foot commercial freezer to feed 500 students for nearly two school years (feel free to check my math and correct me if I’m wrong). That sounds like some pretty favorable logistics to me.
So there you have it, by thinking outside of the McBox, we have a cheap, logistically convenient way to feed our kids healthy school lunches that should make children, parents, and Congress happy. We can give them food we wouldn’t be ashamed to have on our own dining table. We only need to look outside of our own borders from time to time to see how other, more seasoned nations have licked the problem.