Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The High Cost of Cheap Food: Burgers Are Made of Pink Slime

"Warning: May contain a slurry of scraps off the slaughterhouse floor, washed with ammonia." A label that appears on no burger, by USDA decree.

If you haven’t heard of it, “lean finely textured beef” is big business. As the Young Turks explain, “lean finely textured beef,” or LFTB, is made of a slurry of scraps off the slaughterhouse floor and enough ammonia to kill the bacterial nastiness with which its imbued. McDonald’s and most other fast food chains were using this mechanically extracted, nutritionally weak filler in their American “all beef” burger patties, until Jamie Oliver ignited a consumer backlash. Until this point, the food industry lobby vigorously defended the practice of secretly including "pink slime" in ground beef patties and taco fillings, and was supported by the FDA, which still does not require the ingredient to be disclosed.

Where in previous decades, American beef was consonant with luxury---the Japanese word for steak is “bifusteku”---today, our use of LFTB has spoiled the image of American beef abroad. In East Asia, signs in American fast food chains proudly proclaim, “No US beef” in their products. Meanwhile in the US, “pink slime” is unavoidable to the average, thrifty consumer. Though restaurant chains have been quick to announce when they've discontinued using LFTB, it’s still found---unlabeled---in restaurant fare and institutional food, including school lunches.

Cooking at home is no guarantee you’ll avoid “pink slime,” either, because LFTB may be sold at your grocery store, where it may constitute up to 15 percent of ground beef without being labeled as containing anything other than plain old ground beef. In agreement with Jamie Oliver, Colleen Vanderlinden at TLC Cooking says we are “literally eating garbage” when we eat this stuff. Instead of calling drive through burgers “fast food,” we should be calling it “trash food.”

Image credit: felixtriller./Flickr

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The High Cost of Cheap Food: Fast Food Is Made of Poison

It's no exaggeration to say that toxins---including RoundUp weed killer and liver scarring sweeteners---are everywhere in processed food. How many toxic ingredients are in that fast food meal?

The majority of the calories in a typical fast food meal come from corn, which is how Pollan concludes that his meal is essentially made of corn. However, the corn in processed foods isn’t just corn, anymore. The average American eats 1500 pounds of corn. Last year, 88% of corn in the US was genetically modified.

More than half of the corn that Americans ultimately eat was first fed to livestock. Cattle aren’t supposed to eat corn---it causes them extreme gastric distress---and changes their nutritional profile so the omega fatty acid ratios are no longer optimal for good health. Corn poisons the cattle, fattening it up in the process. This is why farmers feed cattle corn in the first place: because beef is sold by the pound, not by the omega 3. 

If we are what we eat, then we eat our shame. A burger touted as “all beef” may contain 85% traditional ground beef and 15% “ground beef” that’s actually “lean finely textured beef” recovered through advanced mechanical means, and then disinfected (because so much of what is recovered is also most likely to be splashed with shit.) The finished product---poisoned cattle, disintegrated and mixed with ammonia---is known as “pink slime.” 

Americans eat 152 pounds of sugar a year, much of that made from corn. "Maltodextrin," "lactose," "sugar," and "dextrose," all ingredients in "Cool Ranch Dorito" Taco Bell taco shells, are also all sugars. High fructose corn syrup isn’t just corn: its inflammatory, adversely affects the liver, and causes a heightened insulin response, contributing to the eventual development of type 2 diabetes. And it’s everywhere: not just in soft drinks and ketchup but on salad, in tomato sauce, even toothpaste.

What is in your food in smaller percentages is cause for even more alarm. Here's the entire list of what's in one of those new Doritos Tacos Locos Taco Bell shells, which are flavored to taste like another processed food---"Cool Ranch Doritos":
Ground Corn treated with Lime, Vegetable Oil (Corn, Soybean, and/or Cottonseed Oil), Water, Corn Flour, Salt, Maltodextrin (Made From Corn), Corn Starch, Tomato Powder, Sunflower Oil, Lactose, Whey, Skim Milk, Corn Syrup Solids, Onion Powder, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Monosodium Glutamate, Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Dextrose, Malic Acid, Artificial Color (Including Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake), Buttermilk, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Sodium Acetate, Sodium Caseinate, Spices, Citric Acid, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, and TBHQ (Preservative). CONTAINS: MILK [Source: Taco Bell]

"Disodium inosinate" and "disodium guanylate" are salts, flavor enhancers similar to MSG, which is already present in higher amounts in this product than cheese. "Sodium acetate" is also a salt and flavor enhancer, one you can use in cool science experiments to make "hot ice." Malic acid and citric acid both produce a tart flavor; the "Natural and Artificial Flavor" could contain any number of ingredients. Ironically, TBHQ is highly toxic, but the label is required to warn us that Taco Bell Cool Ranch Dorito Shells contain milk.

The parts of your food listed near the end of the label---“natural and artificial flavors,” preservatives, and colors, include ingredients known to be highly toxic, like TBHQ. They’re permitted because, the argument goes, they’re used in such small quantities that individually, they don't pose a public health concern. But we know just about nothing about the cumulative effects of all of those trace amounts of antifreeze, flame retardants, and herbicides that, like HFCS, are everywhere in industrially processed food. How many of the conditions that plague Americans are traceable to our dependence on cheap, fast food?

The world may never know (Boiled beetle shells in Red #2.)

Image credit: Scott Ableman/Flickr