Politicians are an interesting breed. Pick a country, and they’re likely to fit a general mold, at least in one sense — they often move from position to position, laterally or climbing the ladder, making connections and using the relationships they build in order to strengthen ties and ensure a bigger paycheck. Sounds pretty smart, at least on the surface; but when it comes to how this plays out in the food industry it’s downright unappetizing.
Yes, “pink slime” is all the rage these days, so we’ll start there. Just in case you don’t read the article or watch the video (and there are thousands more), pink slime is basically a disgusting filler that the meat industry would have you believe is “100% beef,” when in all actuality it is composed of trimmings we wouldn’t normally eat, spun mechanically at high speeds to eliminate some of the fat, then sprayed with ammonia (yeah, you heard me right) and mixed with real meat to stretch a buck. Gross.
But what I found intriguing about this article was the back story on the woman who originally gave the green light to the industry to put this mix into practice, which is reported to be found in up to 70% of the packaged conventional ground beef you buy at the store, of course, unlabeled as such — she, Joann Smith, made the call and ultimately caused Beef Products Inc, the supplier of pink slime, to earn hundreds of millions of dollars during production.
See, she used to work for the USDA, which is how she had the power to make such a decision. But when she stepped down from government office, Smith, who declined to comment on her dancing feet, tangoed right on over to Beef Products Inc (BPI) and joined the board of directors, where she’s made at least $1.2 million. (Under current ethics rules that kind of spit-swapping would not be permitted. At least some things have changed.) So just in case, you’re not following, she gave a big ole multimillion-dollar helping hand to the makers of pink slime and, in exchange, one could say, they gave her a job when she felt it was time for a change. Nice to have those kinds of connections, if you’re into that.
Governor Greg Abbott, from Texas, is just as blatant in his actions, depending on how you look at it — he and two other Republican governors recently toured the Pink Slime Plant, said they had no problems with the product, tasted a burger made with the stuff (is it just me or does he look plainly frightened?) and were handed t-shirts that read “Dude, it’s beef” at the end of the day. (To put it succinctly, this position is pretty much 100% in line with that of the beef industry lobbyists and organizations that hold hands with Republican party members on a regular basis.) Forget about what’s good for your body or your kids; instead let’s support a ridiculous, stomach-turning food additive to keep all those who reside in our back pockets happy, bright, and cheerful. After all, BPI has invested over half a million dollars in its clever political connections, and the time has come for “you scratch mine.” Loves it.
Lobbying in general is, arguably, paying money rather than stating the facts in order to get your point across, which is something the American Chemistry Council knows well, having spent more than $10 million last year to (successfully) convince the FDA to not ban BPA from plastic food and drink containers, which was discreetly announced last week. The FDA has vowed to continue studying the issue in the meantime, but if constituents continue to choose relationships over reality, the safety of our food and how it’s served to us will also continue to suffer. We are, in essence, one big country of guinea pigs.
It’s difficult to even research these issues because, although lobbying statistics are readily available, this is how the government works when it comes to the food industry — remove names and faces from the battle, especially when it comes to animals. Keep everything at arm’s reach. All studies can be countered by contrary research. But what I keep coming back to is this, as you’ve likely taken note of by now: Why risk it? If there is something you can do to avoid BPA and pink slime, just two examples of how screwed up our industrialized food system has become, why not do it? Don’t patronize fast-food restaurants with questionable practices. Seek out glass alternatives to store your food at home. Whenever and wherever you can, find out as much information as you can about the company you’re supporting, what they believe in and what kind of safety and health benefits they’re passing along to you, the consumer.
Since our family health crisis in December, it is amazing how much more I research every single purchase I make, from toothpaste to photo albums. Everything you can think of can be produced, packaged, and shipped in a more responsible manner, whether you’re talking plastic or pork. Ask a “green” friend what kind of soap she buys. Google “eco-friendly” whatever, and actually read the claims a company purports before you purchase their products. If you have an extra minute or an extra hour, I guarantee you the next time you set foot in your regular grocery or drug store you will see things differently even if you’re just the tiniest bit more informed. From a place of health and safety for you and your family. They deserve the extra time and energy you’ll begin to want to put into checking out alternative products and companies — as do you.