Home / General / Pink Slime: It’s What’s For Lunch

Pink Slime: It’s What’s For Lunch


“Ketchup is a vegetable” is sounding pretty good right about now:

Sarah Seltzer has a good overview of what is in school lunches–pink slime turned into meat. Technically, it is meat product injected with ammonia that is processed into something theoretically edible. And the meat industry has lobbied heavily for it to be the product children eat in their school lunches. The USDA has approved this. There are major questions about the product’s safety, not to mention its desirability. But since the USDA subsidizes industrial agriculture and buys millions of pounds of “lean beef trimmings” from cattle growers every year, it has incentive to approve it. What one can legitimately question is whether the same government department that controls agricultural policy should also decide what kids eat.

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  • efgoldman

    Let the USDA test it on their own kids, to see if they’ll eat it and if it does any harm.

    • ploeg

      They probably would. Soylent Pink is good food!

      • Spud

        So how does Soylent pink taste?

        Depends on the people?

        • H-Bob

          It varies from person to person !

        • Jonno

          So how does Soylent pink taste?

          It varies from person to person.

          Fixed for you.

  • Karate Bearfighter

    “It’s a meat process.”

    • Charlie Sweatpants

      Is that like meat related program activities?

    • Barry Freed

      Nice Buffy reference.

    • elm

      Unfortunately, it’s not a “meat process” given that it has animal parts in it. It would be so much better if it were a “meat process.”

  • some doofus

    Not totally sure, but I think that’s a photo of mechanically separated chicken, which is a whole ‘nother disgusting meat process.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      Yes, I saw that photo elsewhere and the context was that this is actually what’s inside chicken McNuggets, at some point in the processing…process.

    • Warren Terra

      What I’ve always like about meat labeled as “mechanically separated” or “mechanically recovered” is the rules governing when the label is mandatory.

      First, filets, steaks, sections, and desired body parts are removed from the carcass, and labeled as such. Then meat scraps are removed. Then the bones are basically scrubbed with steel wool to recover meat scraps missed in the previous two passes. This happens several times in succession. Each sample is then tested for calcium concentration – a measure of how much bone was abraded away recovering the last bits of meat. If the calcium concentration is below a certain level, from the first scrubbing or two, they can package and sell it as “meat”. They only have to label it as “mechanically recovered meat” once the level of ground-up bone has exceeded the cut-off.

      • Blume

        No more mechanically separated meat in the U.S. these days, according to Snopes.

        • Warren Terra

          Blume, meet Jim. Slim Jim.. Jim, meet Blume.

          More generally, the Snopes article you link describes the end of mechanically separated beef, not mechanically separated meat.

  • ABC has a good story on this as well, including the fact that the “the woman who made the decision to OK the mix is a former undersecretary of agriculture, Joann Smith…When Smith stepped down from the USDA in 1993, BPI’s principal major supplier appointed her to its board of directors, where she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years.”

  • Njorl

    You will obey me while I lead you
    And eat the garbage that I feed you
    Until the day that we don’t need you
    Don’t got for help…no one will heed you
    Your mind is totally controlled
    It has been stuffed into my mold
    And you will do as you are told
    Until the rights to you are sold

    • I did think about linking a video of that in, but since it’s about TV instead of food, I decided not to.

  • Paul_D

    Damn. Got my hopes up for McChitlin’s.

  • ploeg

    Tangentially related: a mathematics exercise by D.H. Hill!

    A man in Cincinnati purchased 10,000 pounds of bad pork, at 1 cent per pound, and paid so much per pound to put it through a chemical process, by which it would appear sound, and then sold it at an advanced price, clearing $450 by the fraud. The price at which he sold the pork per pound, multiplied by the cost per pound of the chemical process, was 3 cents. Required the price at which he sold it, and the cost of the chemical process.

    • GFW

      0.25c per lb

      • GFW

        Sorry, brain hiccup. The chemical process cost 0.5c per lb. The price at which he sold it was 6c per lb. (I wrote 0.25 there because it was a term in the quadratic equation.)

  • c u n d gulag

    If you ate in the Grade School, JHS, and HS, cafeteria’s I ate in in the from the early 60’s to mid 70’s, that sh*t would probably be a step up.

    We used to have something called “pizza rolls” on Friday’s, which were stale hamburger buns with left-over American cheese on them, and some sort of nasty canned red sauce on them.

    God, they were AWFUL!

    And they were the thing everyone waited for all week, because the rest of the slop they served was even worse!!!

    The crap they served us made whatever bagged lunch your Mom sent you to school look like Emeril prepared it.

    Those “pizza rolls” were practically gourmet food in comparison.

    Most kids lived on ice-cream sandwiches and chocolate milk if they forgot to bring their lunch from home.

    • sparks

      Hm, my elementary school food (same time period) was pretty good in comparison. The only thing that was truly vile was the canned spinach. When I got into junior high the food was about as awful as yours and in high school I drove to an eatery or home rather than have hamburger with a side of roach parts.

    • Furious Jorge

      I was always so grateful to my mother for packing me a lunch. Even when I didn’t like it, I knew it was better than what was being served at the cafeteria.

  • My daughter’s a vegetarian, as is my ex-wife; I am not, but we decided to raise her a vegetarian and let her make her own decisions. And at 9, she’s committed to remaining one.

    I sometimes wish I could introduce her to bacon. But when I read articles like this, I think I’m glad we decided not to raise her as an omnivore.

    • elm

      I recently switched to vegetarianism for purely health reasons. Looking at the above photo and reading the linked story makes me glad I did so, even if things like this had nothing to do with the original decision.

  • Now with AMMONIA!

    • rea

      Well, it beats E. Coli

      • DrDick

        Barely. I am not sure which is actually more toxic.

  • BradP

    There is a little Huffington Postiness to this post.

    I get that the cow trimmings, or whatever, are not as nutritional as one would expect with it being called “meat”. Its also disappointing, but not surprising, that schools are providing this crap for school lunches.

    But it doesn’t seem like anyone was objecting to the ammonia treatment as unsafe or unhealthy. And moreover, it seems like this is more of a “it looks gross” sort of thing.

    • DrDick

      For once, I sort of agree with you about something. I personally am a bit concerned about the ammonia bit and the truth in advertising aspect, but the rest is not a biggie, except for the nutritional value and high fat content. If this bothers you, I suggest you never even look at a sausage (especially not a hot dog). That is where all this used to go (along with dog food and canned chili).

      • Hogan

        In an earlier era it would have been called peasant food: the lord took the choicest parts of the animal, and the tenants and serfs made what they could (sausage, haggis, blood pudding, pork rinds, etc.) out of the rest. And that’s how cuisine was born.

        Now, of course, we get the scraps without the cuisine. Freedom!

        • DrDick

          Soylent Green is next!

      • Jon H

        Lutefisk is soaked in lye, and it wasn’t developed by agribusiness.

    • Warren Terra

      It’s worth pointing out that this is an industrial food production byproduct (actual products of industrial food production are permitted to be labelled more compellingly). Is that really what we want to be giving our kids? Is that really what we think of them?

      • DrDick

        Do you give your kids hot dogs? I am not disputing your main point, but there is a rather large double standard here. The trimmings (which is what we are talking about here) have always been used in sausage and other processed meat products. As I say, the additional processing with ammonia, as well as including it as filler in hamburger, is a bit troubling, however.

      • Anonymous

        Why the hell not? The difference between a product and a byproduct is semantic and depends on how much revenue can be gotten from selling it rather than any particular quality claim. (Leather is a byproduct of slaughtering cows, but that doesn’t mean the leather is inferior.)

        If it’s bad meat it’s bad meat, and if it’s good meat it’s good meat. (And obviously it might very well be bad meat.) Children shouldn’t feel insulted that it happens that the meat they’re eating isn’t the primary economic output of the process which produced their meat.

        • Furious Jorge

          Well, there’s always that bit about ammonia …

    • Murc

      I don’t often agree with Brad, but I agree with Brad.

      Is this stuff safe to eat? Does it provide adequate nutritional value? ACTUAL nutritional value, not “we’ve decided ketchup is a vegetable” kind? Can it be processed into a reasonably tasty form? If so, knock yourselves out, kids.

      Now, it is true that in an ideal world, we’d be serving kids food that was both nutritious and tasty for only a nominal fee. But that’d require an overall education policy (and yes, what kids eat in school is part of education policy) that makes sense.

      Although, as a sidebar, I do think people need to have a clearer idea of the very real palate differences between growing children and adults. People seem to have forgotten that when they were kids, they weren’t picky eaters because of some gleefully malign sense of stubbornness. They were “picky” because their bodies were telling them that a lot of stuff they’d come to enjoy in their late twenties was fucking disgusting, shovel more meat and sugar into me, please and thank you.

      Furthermore, kids are dumb, but they’re not DUMB. They can tell when you’re trying to ‘trick’ them into eating healthy and for the most part they resent the hell out of it.

  • BradP

    Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see children get healthy meals. And it would be a major fail on my part not to grumble about the USDA’s conflict of interest in this.

    But this doesn’t seem to be all that exceptional. If you completely banned this stuff from being produced, kids are still going to be eating way too much crap with low nutritional value and a lot of industrial processing.

    It seems that people are singling out this stuff for aesthetics rather than anything rational.

    • BradP

      That was to Warren.

    • Njorl

      The meat is gathered from the slaughterhouse floor. It is very high in bacteria. The ammonia process used to kill the bacteria gives the meat a foul odor and bad taste. They alter the amounts of ammonia they treat the meat with looking for a balance between bad taste and likelihood of bacterial infection.

      They do this because it is more profitable to serve a foul-tasting product that frequently poisons people than it is to take more sanitary precautions to collect the scrap meat.

      • Jon H

        And the ammonia isn’t flushed out?

        • Furious Jorge

          My understanding is that it is not, but I may be wrong.

  • mpowell

    French kids actually eat real food for school lunches. And we mock them. How pathetic we are.

    • LeeEsq

      Thats because the French school system provides real food for lunches, not because French kids particularly like it. Given an option, French kids want to eat pizza and hamburgers and drink soda.

      The main problem with providing better meals for schools kids, besides the usual politics, is probably one of scale and organization. The French school system is run by the national government and is very centralized and bureaucratized. This allows the French government much more control over school lunches. American schools are less able to. Local control means that funding is whatever the local tax payers are willing to give. They have fewer bureaucratic resources to deal with the food industry. Good school lunches are expensive and most taxpayers would prefer lower taxes.

      • Fahrverg


  • cpinva

    if you’ve ever seen how hotdogs and sausage are made, this wouldn’t bother you a bit. which is probably why, as the man said, you should never watch sausages (or legislation) being made.

    • Warren Terra

      Well, yes, but then look at what “the man” accomplished. The Franco-Prussian War, for example.

    • Njorl

      In the US, hot dog meat is held to the same standards as the ground meat counterpart. It is not exposed to the same amount of bacteria as the trimmings described here. It never needs to be sterilized with ammonia, rather it is preserved or cured with salt so that dangerous levels of bacteria do not develop in the first place.

      • Jon H

        As if salt doesn’t have its own issues.

        • JRoth

          You mean like being a fundamental requirement of human life, as opposed to a waste product of human respiration?

          Water and piss are both necessary, but that doesn’t make them equally suitable for the dinner table.

  • Jon H

    I think this photo needs to be retired. It’s no longer shocking, and is going to become counterproductive.

    Also, it’s getting to the point that when someone leads with that old picture, trying to get an emotional reaction from the reader, I wonder if someone’s bullshitting.

    • JRoth

      FWIW, I haven’t seen it before, and I’m suitably disgusted. It may be less ubiquitous than you think.

      • dave

        If you’re disgusted by that picture, life must be hell for you.

  • Jon H

    What about the ecological side of the issue? If we’re going to eat meat, isn’t it better that we use as much of the animal as possible?

    Or the animal rights side: if humans are going to kill animals for food, isn’t a little ammonia a small price to pay in order to waste less, given what the animal has been through?

    • Furious Jorge

      Ever heard of the phrase “diminishing returns?” I think it applies here.

  • JRoth

    Doesn’t this logic dictate making cowshit into food?

  • Kate

    This is a disgrace. This is not what is in school lunches, it is all a myth. BPI has been a safe comapny for many years and still is, and now because of ABC News’s newscast about ‘Pink Slime’ and things like this, people think that meat sold nowadays isn’t safe.

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