Pink Slime is Back! This time It’s News, not Meat. A Classic Food Lawsuit Revisited.

Few people remember the renowned “Pink Slime” lawsuit between a company named Beef Products Inc. and ABC/Disney. BPI sued ABC/Disney for referring to their product they called “lean finely textured beef” (processed beef trimmings treated with ammonia) as “Pink Slime” during a 2012 broadcast. BPI sued for $1.9 billion in damages for lost business. They settled for a payout of $177 million.

The back story is even better. LFTB was for years regulated as being suitable for “limited” human consumption in the US, though it was and still is banned by the EU. Along came the corporate friendly GW Bush administration, and suddenly in 2001 the ammonia treated beef was allowed to be sold country wide as a beef product, without being included on the ingredients label. In 2002 USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein came up with the descriptive term “Pink Slime,” and emailed his colleagues that “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.” Zirnstein was overruled, naturally.

By 2004 the rules concerning LFTB were relaxed even further by the USDA, and school hamburgers were allowed to contain up to 15% LFTB, without any labeling. By 2008 students were unknowingly eating 5.5 million pounds of LFTB per year, until there was a temporary suspension of use due to E. coli contamination. However, it was only temporary, until August of the same year, when E. coli was found in LFTB products for a third time, and the USDA stopped shipping to schools. By this time an estimated 75% of US hamburgers include LFTB.

By 2011 the stuff begins to hit the fan, as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is the first nationally broadcast media production to highlight the widespread use of LFTB in school lunches. Then comes the 2012 ABC news story and the subsequent lawsuit. Finally, in 2018 BPI gets to take a victory lap–the USDA ruled that their new and improved beef product, without the fine texture, could be labeled as “ground beef.” Just don’t call it LFTB or “Pink Slime” anymore.

What has this got to do with the news industry? An old nickname has been re-born, as corporate sponsored propaganda packaged as news (most of what’s broadcast) has been dubbed “pink slime.” The slime part is easily understood, and the pink makes it memorable. The analogy is to insist that your name for something is the right one, reality or no reality, and sue any one important who disagrees. Remember the old joke about the news? The news industry treats citizens like they’re mushrooms, by keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure.

So money as speech is reaching its logical conclusion. The best example was the multi billion dollar lawsuit over the meaning of the word sugar. It was Big Ag (corn syrup) vs. Big Sugar (cane and beets), with Big Sugar winning. Corn syrup is still corn syrup, not sugar. Big Ag vs. your average citizen–not happening, as it isn’t worth either’s time. Just lay out the facts and let the people choose. Enough of them will pick slime, as long as they don’t know what it really is.

To-Feud! Tofurkey and the ACLU sue Arkansas over the Meaning of the Word “Meat”!

This is a regular to-food fight, brought to you by the state whose most famous politician once said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” That would be slick William Clinton, who is the only person who could ever have pulled off that sentence.

From the AP: The Tofurkey company is having none of the new Arkansas law that states a producer can’t say “veggie burger” or “plant based meat” on its labels. So now it’s all up to the federal courts, over whether or not Arkansas can outlaw such outlandish verbiage.

Several other states have turned into word police when it comes to “meat,” including my home state of Alabama. I at least hope our legislature spelled the word “meat” correctly. It is four letters long.

Enterprise #22 Food Grinder

An Industry Standard

This 1886 design is so perfect that it is still being made today, and has become the standard meat grinder. (This one has the 1886 patent date on it.) Though this is the hand crank version, there is a pulley available that can be used to hook this up to an electric motor. I happened to see one in use during a cooking show set in Cambodia, where an entire sausage factory was being powered by just one of these grinders.

Full of Heavyosity

One of the benefits of this being the standard is that one can be had on the cheap, and I paid fifteen bucks for this one. Someone had put the cutter on backwards, which had made it non-functional. I re-ground and sharpened it, and put it back on the right way. There are also innumerable attachments.

Grinder Plates and Sausage Stuffers

Here’s a vintage grinder plate, a used one, and a new one. The one with the large holes is used with the somewhat deadly looking sausage stuffers, which allows anyone to go crazy making sausage. That’s why I have intestines in my fridge, aka sausage casings.

There’s an even larger version of this, the #33, which is handy if your name is Dr. Lecter.

A Field Guide to Southern Hamburgers

HamburgerHamburger meat is on the way. The grinder just needs a few more cranks.

A. D. Livingston, in his great book On the Grill, tells the best hamburger story I have ever read, and it actually qualifies as one of the best stories I’ve ever read, period. It’s a tragi-comic tale of the decline of Southern food, and the Southern diet, both at the same time. It also involves high school football, cheerleaders, and grilled hamburgers. It doesn’t get much more Southern than that.

A. D. has a unique explanation for the year after year success of his local high school football team. It was the hamburgers served at each home game:

Above all else, however, I credit a few good ol’ boy chefs and the great American hamburger. Thick and juicy. Hot and tasty. Grilled to perfection.

Fans from both sides of the gridiron would mob the hamburger venue at the home field, lured in by the smell of ground beef cooking over hickory and charcoal, and the resulting revenue went to support the team.

Just as no good deed goes unpunished, however, all good things come to an end:

But slowly things changed and un-American activities began to gnaw at the spirit of the thing. By the time my son reached varsity football and I was called upon to lend my services as a chef, the situation had really become hopeless.

Locally ground quality beef had been replaced by Sam’s Club type pre-formed burgers. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to eat that garbage. When confronted with that reality, the new head of the Quarterback Club had the following answer for A. D. :

“Look, feller,” he said, fed up with me. “This is a ball game. If people want hamburgers, they’ll go to Hardee’s.”

And in that manner, the South fell again. Only the Southerners who fell this time were all so obese, they couldn’t get back up.

Let’s look at Southern burgers, traveling from East to West.

Carolina Burgers

This is something of a barbecue burger, and I have compiled a list of the most important ingredients. I think of this as being a North Carolina, instead of a South Carolina, burger.

  • Gotta have: Coleslaw, American Cheese
  • Gratuitous meat added: All meat chili
  • Burger: Ground Chuck

Anything with coleslaw is good, and I would throw in a slice of dill pickle as well. Be gratuitous.

Pimento and Cheese Burger

Originally a coastal specialty, this burger was something of a craze for awhile, and has spread around the country. Talk about a cheeseburger! Cheese, with peppers and mayo. That’s what I’m talking about.

  • Gotta have: Good Pimento and Cheese, and lots of it, and a slice of tomato
  • Gratuitous meat added: Bacon
  • Burger: Ground Chuck

Though this may be a slow motion infarction of a meal, one every so often probably won’t kill you. Probably.

Slug Burger, Penn Burger, Mystery Burger

This is the one I have been wanting to write about, a burger intended to be consumed by the Southern lumpenproletariat. You’re going to have to google that term. This low priced specialty is concentrated in the Tennessee Valley region of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, and surrounding environs. The Southern Foodways Alliance has a blog post dedicated to this curiosity. Let’s just say this one is not for everyone.

  • Gotta have: Filler, filler, filler. Usually Soybean Meal, Flour, or Oatmeal, as well as a boatload of condiments, to cover up the taste of the filler
  • Gratuitous meat added: As little as possible
  • Burger: Ground Beef, Pork, or whatever was found dead in the road

My hometown of Cullman was so special that we had TWO Mystery Burger joints, including a C. F. Penn franchise, where they deep fry the burgers. I had my first Mystery Burger when I was about ten, and even my ten year old brain said, “What the f*** is this?” Actually, it was also my last one. Foodies like to talk about “mouthfeel,” a term I find to be borderline obscene. Walk up to someone on the street, and ask, “How is your mouthfeel today?” This thing had the mouthfeel of the refuse from a lumberyard. Hence our family name for it: Sawdust Burger.

Louisiana Burger

How about from the ridiculous to the sublime? I’ve always thought that if Mississippi had not gotten in the way, Louisiana and Alabama would have been like two brothers who lived next to each other, and always tried to best each other at everything, be it good or bad. Corrupt as hell, and football and food crazy, Alabama has the James Beard award winning best restaurant in the country, Highlands Bar and Grill, (Frank Stitt, the owner and Executive Chef, just happens to be from Cullman), and the last I heard, a pretty good football team. Louisiana has chef Donald Link, among others, and LSU ain’t bad at football, either. Here is a short version of Chef John Folse’s Southern/Louisiana Burger:

  • Gotta Have: Egg,  Bread Crumbs, and Parmesan Cheese as a binder
  • Gratuitous meat added: None needed
  • Burger: Ground Chuck

Cheese IN the burger? Absolute genius. Whenever we had beef that was too lean back on the farm, we would use egg and flour as a binder. That’s when the connection struck me-it all goes back to the original hamburger from Germany. Donald Link is something of a German Cajun, having ancestors named Zaunbrecher, who helped establish rice farming in Louisiana. Talk about fusion. Talk about good.

The Basic Burger

Let’s get back to the basics, after all of these variations. Hamburger obviously originated in Hamburg, Germany, as Frankfurters originated in Frankfurt, and Wieners in Wien (Vienna). A Berliner is a kind of jelly doughnut, and people still debate if JFK stood before a huge crowd in Berlin in 1963, and said, “I am a Jelly Doughnut” (Ich bin ein Berliner). The more normal construction would have been “Ich bin Berliner.” I asked my German friend Torsten, who was an engineer at the Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama, about that, and he said that context is everything, when it came to statements like JFK’s. So JFK was not a jelly doughnut, after all. He was a Mensch.

This basic burger recipe is similar to A. D Livingston’s, with a couple of additions:

  • Ground Chuck (I grind my own)
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Soy Sauce
  • Garlic Powder

Proportions are a matter of taste. I cook my burgers on a Lodge cast iron sportsman’s grill, over oak and hickory charcoal. I also like really strong dijon or creole mustard on my burger, and Vidalia onion. One thing I will never cook on my grill, however, is Mystery Burgers.

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