Some things just don't mix: like corporate oversight and federal standards for food safety, like ammonia and hamburgers. Lessons from a seasoned meat grinder.
Back in the 1970s we were making our own ground beef when I got into trouble by cutting too close to the bone.
It was at the point in the butchering process that anything not in the burger went into the big dog waiting patiently outside the door. Our new electric grinder would handle just about anything I could mash in. Big Dog did not contribute to the bottom line, so my primary concern was saving every ounce of edible beef.
I should explain: In home processing, there’s always test grinding. A fresh beef patty is formed and fried to determine lean or fat, based on melted grease in the skillet. No grease and scorched meat meant we needed to add tallow to the mix. Shrunken burgers implied too much fat already.
It was noon time. As always we ate our tests for lunch. Then someone found a ground up grain of something in their first mouthful. All eyes turned to me, the grinder, as a chorus rose up:
“Don’t put gristle in the hamburger!!”
There are worse things than gristle. Several years ago I went to see Food, Inc., the movie. That’s how I learned why my pasty fast food burger smelled like ammonia. It was the ammonia wash used to reclaim contaminated packing-plant waste. Ammonia is good for nitrogen hungry plants, but anyone who’s ever changed a soggy diaper knows what it smells like. That’s the way the dollar burger I got in town smelled.
I ain’t no plant.
Way-back-when, my community decided to build our own packing plant. We said the new business would use every part of the cow but the moo. That meant the processing plant would be efficient and fast. Every bone, hoof, and hide…even blood… would be gleaned and sold just like we sold the beef. But not all together.
Quality was job one. Lucrative markets back East would give as good as they got. One thing we’d never do is sacrifice excellence, because excellence was what we were selling. So for us, eliminating waste meant utilizing all the parts — without mixing them.
There’s a whole bunch of stuff we take into our bodies today because someone stirs it into our food. Some kills bacteria, some adds flavor or color to make us think we’re eating something we’re not, some extends shelf life into the hereafter, and some contains filler just because it’s cheap and yields a tidy profit.
Thanks to pink slime, consumers are beginning to question food-industry/government rubber-stamp joint partnerships that do more for corporate profits than quality assurance. They’re asking questions, like: Where does food really come from? Or, Why should ammonia-treated bacterial gristle be added to my hamburger?
And let’s not just interrogate meat. How about bottled water? One particular brand gives me heartburn. When I checked the label I found there was something in my drink besides plain old H2O. The label said I was also drinking calcium chloride for a “clean taste” and purity.
Calcium chloride is a heavy, corrosive salt that farmers add to water in tractor tires for weight and better traction. It also kills bacteria and keeps water from freezing. That’s why bottled water gave me indigestion.
It’s all about making cheap stuff into expensive stuff.
Take, for example, antibiotics. Big Livestock says it’s ok to use antibiotics continuously in livestock feed rations because germ killers make animals more feed-efficient. Actually, the germs that kill animals in raised in concentration must be controlled for the same reasons we treat adulterated hamburger or less than perfect water. Because eating the wrong stuff can kill us.
They say mixing it all together makes food cheaper. That’s not exactly true. In fact it’s not true at all. What it really does is add things to our food that make more money for the sellers. If all the things we ate were mixed in deli-style, before our eyes, it’s doubtful anyone would ask for pink slime, tractor fluid, or anti-bacterials. We buy them not by choice, but because most of the time we don’t know even know enough to ask if they’re there.
Good food, water and air are three things everyone requires. Maybe some of us just think of food as fuel, the stuff our bodies process for energy, but there are other ramifications. Good food really is spiritual. The Bible talks about hunger and thirst all the time. One of the last things Jesus did on earth was have supper with his friends. And in Genesis 3:17-19 it says “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Something to keep in mind.
One question Americans should never have to ask is whether the food we eat is safe or pure. But now it looks like we need to do just that. Too often, the tests that are intended to prove our food is safe and good are actually carried out by those with the most to gain – corporations — while neutral government looks on. Lately, the governors of three states have even risen up in defense of pink slime. Is that public service or corporate service?
Real ground beef, I learned long ago, is clean. Significant amounts of e-coli bacteria aren’t normally found in muscle tissue. For e-coli to find its way into hamburger, someone has to put it there. Ammoniated impure stuff is mixed with our best and healthiest ground beef because the guys who profit from it say it’s OK.
I say it’s unholy.