Like most Americans, I love a good, juicy hamburger and am pretty thankful for the people who raise the beef, make it into an edible product and cook it for me.
But sadly, because nothing is scandal-proof in this country anymore, the good, old-fashioned hamburger has now come under attack.
A handful of bloggers and journalists across the country have been patting themselves on the back over the last few weeks for getting government officials and corporations to remove something called “pink slime” from ground beef sold in grocery stores and used in the nation’s school lunch program.
But before rethinking our summer cookouts and thanking these self-appointed hamburger watchdogs, thinking people should consider the facts of the matter.
For starters, its proper name is finely textured lean beef — not “pink slime.” It’s a food additive that adds protein to cheap hamburger meat, helps keep the cost of ground beef down and is completely safe to eat. The Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture, which are in charge of ensuring that what Americans eat isn’t dangerous, say it’s safe for consumption. The truth doesn’t get much clearer than that. In fact, this meat is so lean — about 95% lean — that it’s usually blended with cheap hamburger meat in order to make hamburgers healthier and more affordable.
The misguided attacks on this beef are not, by any means, victimless. As a former educator in Mississippi, let me assure you that schools in my home state, and all across the nation, are strapped for cash. Schools are laying off teachers, delaying much-needed repairs and cancelling important classes for childhood development like gym, art and music. Without this lean beef, schools will have to pay more out of their school lunch program budgets for hamburger meat that has more fat and is actually worse for children’s health than so-called “pink slime.” Frankly, it’s an outrage.
As for the term “pink slime,” it’s a catchy phrase promoted by the news media. It was taken from a thoughtless comment made in an email 10 years ago by a government employee who knew that the meat additive was completely safe. If that bureaucrat had never sent that email, no one in America would even care about this food additive.
At the end of the day, I hope school systems and the federal government, which buys millions of pounds of meat for many lower-income schools in Mississippi and around the country, come to their collective senses and disregard any concerns about meat containing this lean beef.
If any critics of this meat disagree with me, I would be happy to walk with them around some of Mississippi’s impoverished neighborhoods and schools, and let them decide for themselves. To me, reduced teacher pay, increased class sizes, school violence and crumbling schools are the real problems facing children today, not pink slime.
Ronnie Shows is a former Democratic member of Congress. He represented Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District between 1999 and 2003.