‘Soylent Pink’ is Pet Food!

Left: What we feed our kitties. Right: What we feed our kiddies.

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.

Tameyya (Egyptian falafel)

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.

Image Credits: Fancy Feast, Huffington Post for visual components of the composite image. The text for the beef image was added by the author of this blog. Tameyya picture by A.A. Leil.

Share

4 Comments

  1. Alyssa says:

    I saw you comment on my blog and thought I’d drop by and say hi. :)

    Very informative blog post, I want to say I read that article, or at least skimmed it. Stuff like this makes me want to bang my head against a table, though I gotta say it doesn’t surprise me one bit. All you have to do is look at just about any food item with a list of ingredients and you’ll find all kinds of stuff that shouldn’t be there, heck I can’t even pronounce half of it.

    Although I do wonder why they thought this was a good idea in the first place, with all the parents nowadays going on that “Healthy food craze” lately I’m surprised they thought they could pass off this stuff as un-harmful. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat healthier, though I do wish people would use common sense instead of following what the general population deems “healthy”.

    I do agree with you about the pet food thing, if you look at all these pet commercials you see things like “Whole grains” “Fresh ingredients” “Real meat” and then you see commercials of kids meals with the nutritional value of a rock, (obviously that’s not every kids meal/snack, but I bet you it’s some of them).

    Anyway, I’m starting to rant, I hope this reply isn’t too long, I can’t really tell at the moment so I’ll end this here.

    And yes, one really does have to research everything these days. ;)

    Have a nice day,
    Alyssa

    • A.A. Leil says:

      You know, it isn’t the health concern that bothers me most. What I worry more is what sort of message it sends teenagers, and that was why I really wanted to hear what you thought about it. So thanks for stopping by, Alyssa.

  2. Kathleen Dooley says:

    Ams,

    Great article but you really need to give the falafal recipe! Coming form a household that has never had ground beef brought through the front door and 70 percent vegetarian, it is always about the recipes! BTW, dog food quality is also somewhat of a challenge. Anything from China is out and sometimes what we thought was a high quality food (Wellness) ended up being actually a really bad choice that made our dog quite sick. One has to research everything these days!

    Be well!!

    ~kd

    • A.A. Leil says:

      I’d love to share the tameyya recipe, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy! I did, however, find you a similar recipe online to get you started:

      http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061221153133AAEs6RP

      The peeled and sliced fava bean is essential to achieve the right texture, otherwise you’ll give yourself callouses and waste a lot of time peeling them yourself (my neighbor learned the hard way). If you’re familiar with Arax Market in Watertown, I believe you can find the ‘foul madshoosh’ there. I hear Sevan Bakery has it as well. I’d call ahead and check.

      I’ve seen other recipes that use cayenne pepper, but I recommend against it, at least at first. Tameyya has a subtle flavor that the pepper could mask. Only make as much as you are going to eat that day, as they don’t handle refrigeration very well. If you must save and re-heat, don’t use the microwave.

Leave a Comment