Chef Dan Moody Defends Pink Slime
Editor's note: To clarify the relationship mentioned below, Moody held a pop-up dinner at Posh; he was not employed by Posh.
We have probably moved past the point in which reasoned debate will enter the furor over pink slime, but some people are going to try.
His basic argument can be boiled down to:
"Just because you think something is gross doesn't mean it should be banned."
Moody's major complaint is that beef prices are already on the rise around the country and that removing tons of pink slime from circulation will drive those costs up even further. The end result will be an increase in beef prices across the board and and an increase in the difficulty the less fortunate will have in procuring protein for the dinner table: "I have no doubt that pink slime is being fought with the best of intentions, but it's an elitist fight. It's a fight that assumes everyone wants to, or can afford to, eat as you want to eat."
Moody is not alone.
As Ari LeVaux from The Atlantic asks , "Is slime worse than pink cylinders, yellow nuggets, brown breakfast sausage patties, or any number of mystery products? Probably not."
We contacted Moody and he agreed to expand on his thoughts about pink slime. The full text of that email is available at the end of this post.
We asked Moody to address the claim that pink slime isn't "real" food. His response was that fundamentally, "lean, finely textured beef" (LFTB) is still beef. Further, all the processes that go into making LFTB and the components within it, are present in many of the foods we eat an enjoy.
"Is their problem that the beef it sometimes removed from close to the bone? I guess ribs aren't real food either. Is their problem that the beef is finely ground? I guess hot dogs aren't real food. Is their problem that the beef is trapped within fat? Then I guess bacon isn't real food. Get the idea? For any complaint about where the beef comes from or how it's processed, I can show you a common "real food" example that does the same thing."
Speaking specifically to the issue of the presence of ammonia, he pointed out that ammonia is already present in many of the foods we eat. A notable example is cheese, where the aging process can naturally produce ammonia as a byproduct. He also said that all manner of scaring sounding chemicals are used in the traditional preservation of food products, "If the claim is that anything with a chemical isn't "real food," then there's a lot of non-food being eaten, especially at high-end modern restaurants employing modernist cuisine techniques."
He further pointed to both sous-vide and the ubiquity of mechanically processed meats as examples of the hypocrisy being exhibited by many of those critical of pink slime. Sous-vide utilizes low cooking temperature to render meats incredibly moist and mechanical processing is used in everything from chicken nuggets to SPAM.
Moody points out that Americans can be incredibly squeamish about using all the parts of an animal and that many chefs have been pushing back against that irrational fear by promoting head-to-tail menus: "The organs, blood, skin, intestines, connective tissue, and meat of an animal can all be consumed, and pleasingly so if prepared correctly."
While that might sound exotic he points to sausage and charcuterie as examples of widely enjoyed foods made with "disgusting" components.
We asked Moody if he would serve LFTB to his own customers and he responded, "Well, that depends on what type of restaurant and what segment of the market I was in. Would I serve it at the prices I charge now for my food? No, because I'd grind my own meat so I'd have more control over it, and to limit the time for bacterial growth once it's been ground. That isn't because I think it's dangerous or "bad," but because as a chef serving haute cuisine, I feel a responsibility to make as much of my own food as possible. I don't really even like buying in bread, because I'd rather make it myself. Does that mean I think commercially made bread is a bad product? No. It just means that I have some pride. Would I serve it if I were the chef at, say, Applebee's? Absolutely. Would I serve it to my family? Yes. Would I eat it? Yes."
Beyond the practical aspects of LFTB, Moody expressed deep reservations over the motivations of those seeking to demonize pink slime. "I'll be kind and say that the fight against pink slime is one of ignorance (and, largely, I think that's true), but there's a part of me that thinks something more is afoot here." His nagging concern is that the movement against pink slime isn't about better consumer labeling practices or food safety but rather part of a larger effort to ban meat in general.
1. People claim pink slime isn't real food. What would you say to them?
Define "real food." LFTB has beef, fat, and possibly some connective tissue. It's then treated with ammonia. I don't understand how that isn't "real food."
With regard to the beef: Is their problem that the beef it sometimes removed from close to the bone? I guess ribs aren't real food either. Is their problem that the beef is finely ground? I guess hot dogs aren't real food. Is their problem that the beef is trapped within fat? Then I guess bacon isn't real food. Get the idea? For any complaint about where the beef comes from or how it's processed, I can show you a common "real food" example that does the same thing.
With regard to the fat: I don't even know what the argument is here. We eat fat all the time.
With regard to the connective tissue: High-end restaurants now serve beef tendon. You don't get much more connective tissue in a dish than when you eat beef tendon. So, is that not "real food"? Osso buco is full of connective tissue, as are many braised dishes. In fact, on a microscopic level, individual muscle fibers are shrouded in connective tissue, so, in point of fact, you're always consuming connective tissue. Are all these things not, "real food"?
With regard to the ammonia: Ammonia is used in processing gelatin (even if you don't eat Jell-O, gelatin is used ubiquitously in desserts), chocolate, and bread (leavening agent). Ammonia is naturally occurring in cheese. Ever eat a cheese that's got a strong "ammonia odor"? Think there's a reason it smells like ammonia? The aging process can, in fact, produce ammonia. There is food with a higher ammonia content than LFTB, so what's the problem? Is the problem that chemicals are being added to meat to prevent bacterial growth? Well, chemicals are added to meat all the time in making charcuterie. People have irrational fears about soduim nitrite and sodium nitrate, both of which are used (nitrates to a lesser extent - only in special circumstances) to prevent clostridium botulinum. If the claim is that anything with a chemical isn't "real food," then there's a lot of non-food being eaten, especially at high-end modern restaurants employing modernist cuisine techniques.
Is the problem that it's warmed to low temperatures during the processing of the food? Two words: sous vide.
Is the problem that it's been processed by a machine? Machine processed foods are ubiquitous. I don't see how you can make an argument that is what makes it not "real food."
2. Would you say the crux of your argument is that pink slime helps makes ground beef affordable for the masses? Or is it that banning pink slime accomplishes nothing of use because people who can afford to eat well aren't eating it and people who can't, simply won't have something affordable to eat.
I believe in people being free to choose what they want to eat. The attack against pink slime was fought as a ban from the beginning, and it was fought with misleading information. The misleading information, combined with an unkind name ("pink slime") and people's ignorance of what they're eating on a daily basis created mass hysteria, which caused people to join the fight. The media followed like lemmings and didn't do any research to understand the product.
Now, people have said to me: "Yes, I absolutely agree with you that if people who can't afford better would like to buy LFTB, they should be allowed to, but it should be labeled." Look, as a general principle of letting people know what's in their food, I don't have an issue with that, but that wasn't how the fight was fought. People fought to BAN pink slime, not to LABEL it, and used deception to get everyone upset about it. (Ironic that their claim is that they were being deceived...but I digress.) If people were fully informed about what LFTB was and the media actually did their job instead of creating hysteria to attract viewers/readers, then I'd be fully on board with labeling and letting people choose. Sure, this would probably raise the price as people stopped purchasing LFTB, but it would happen more gradually, and it would still allow people the choice, which is important to me.
The crux of the argument in my blog post is one of choice: The people who are fighting against LFTB always had the choice to buy ground beef without LFTB, or to buy whole cuts of beef and grind it themselves. In fighting to ban LFTB, they were fighting to ensure that no one could buy LFTB, even if some people wanted to. That's just morally wrong. You're fighting to take away someone's choice just because you believe it's "poisonous" or unhealthy. Well, by that logic, what's next? ALCOHOL? That's certainly poisonous - much more so than a trace amount of ammonia. SUGAR? After all, sugar is sometimes treated with lye. Lye is a poison. Also, sugar is "unhealthy," so why not take that choice away? FOIE GRAS? Sort of like they've already done in California?
I'm tired of people trying to control what other people eat. I'm tired of people who have the luxury of buying premium food trying to make cheaper food unavailable to the people who need it. I recently tweeted my disgust with NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg after he banned food donations to the homeless because, you know, he couldn't be sure the food being donated was healthy. WOW. Just wow. Do you think homeless people, who eat out of trash cans, would be willing to eat a burger made exclusively out of LFTB? I bet you they would. There are also people who are not homeless but barely make enough money to pay rent: they'd probably eat LFTB too.
When people start banning food products and altering markets (usually increasing prices), they're hurting the poor. I, for one, know what it's like having barely enough money to eat. I've lived that way. I think a little righteous indignation at those trying to impose their views about what people can/can't eat on others is deserved.
3. Do you have any new insight on the matter of pink slime?
I think I've given a lot of new insight in my answers above.
However, I'd say that people are afraid of LFTB because of the name "pink slime." It's a "gross" factor that has people up in arms more than a health concern. The idea that anything from the animal is inedible or not useful is really a silly notion, and something that chefs doing "snout to tail" or whole animal dinners are trying to expose. The organs, blood, skin, intestines, connective tissue, and meat of an animal can all be consumed, and pleasingly so if prepared correctly. A large percentage of the American population would probably find that "disgusting." They'd probably object if trace amounts of, say, beef heart were ground in with ground beef, but there's nothing wrong with beef heart. In fact, it's quite tasty.
If you go to a fancy restaurant, you pay a premium for charcuterie. Chefs make sausages and terrines from scraps and trimmings. Sometimes, the trimmings that would be turned into LFTB in a processing plant are simply ground and added as additional fat in a stand-alone restaurant. It's the exact same meat, it just hasn't been handled by a machine (which is partly why charcuterie costs so much - you're paying for the skill, not the product). As for being chemically treated, as I said, there are more than a few "chemicals" and "additives" that are put into charcuterie. Some of them are chemicals that, in large quantities, would do you significant harm.
So, the fight against pink slime is either one of ignorance, or it's a fight against something that isn't the product itself, because we consume products similar to pink slime on a daily basis, and sometimes even pay a premium to do so. I'll be kind and say that the fight against pink slime is one of ignorance (and, largely, I think that's true), but there's a part of me that thinks something more is afoot here. I've already seen people saying: "You have a problem with 'pink slime'? It's just meat, and meat is disgusting. You should just stop eating meat." There have been articles recently about people like Frank Bruni having gout and how eating meat is supposedly part of the cause. Mark Bittman recently tweeted that meat is bad for you.
There's a part of me that believes the fight against things like "pink slime" and foie gras are really just the beginning of a larger push to force everyone to consume less meat, and you're all fanning the flames. No one will ever agree to someone telling them what to eat, or to consume less meat. However, point to enough "outrages" in the meat industry and heard the sheep into fighting to ban the practices that make meat an affordable commodity to even the most impoverished part of society, and the price will increase so much that you, of your own free will, stop eating so much meat. It's genius, because you'll have been willing participants, so you won't even complain that you've been forced to eat the way someone else wants you to eat.
4. Would you serve it yourself?
This is a loaded question. Would I serve it in a restaurant? Well, that depends on what type of restaurant and what segment of the market I was in. Would I serve it at the prices I charge now for my food? No, because I'd grind my own meat so I'd have more control over it, and to limit the time for bacterial growth once it's been ground. That isn't because I think it's dangerous or "bad," but because as a chef serving haute cuisine, I feel a responsibility to make as much of my own food as possible. I don't really even like buying in bread, because I'd rather make it myself. Does that mean I think commercially made bread is a bad product? No. It just means that I have some pride. Would I serve it if I were the chef at, say, Applebee's? Absolutely. Would I serve it to my family? Yes. Would I eat it? Yes.
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