This Week’s Cartoon: “Let Them Eat Slime”

I spent way too much time last weekend reading about pink slime. I really wanted to get to the bottom of the slimebucket, if you will. This particular controversy has been burbling (and oozing and gurgling) ever since celebrity chef Jamie Oliver did a segment trashing the stuff last year (it’s a little melodramatic, but the basic sentiment is sound). McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King proceeded to drop it from their beef. More recently, a couple microbiologists condemned the goop as nutritionally-deficient, woefully-unlabeled Not Meat.

Now, I’ve traveled enough and watched enough cable-network food shows to know that gross-seeming animal parts are edible, and possibly even a delicacy, depending on the palate of the beholder. So I wanted to mentally separate the unappetizing aspect of pink slime from the food safety/nutrition issues. Here’s what I’ve discerned:

There’s a case to be made that ammoniated meat is safer because pathogens are reduced. But at the high levels of ammonia that may be required to effectively kill bacteria, the meat starts to reek of ammonia. The Times has a lengthy report on the iffy history of this particular technology.  This Prevention article also raises some good questions about what we don’t know.

Personally, I don’t want to be a human guinea pig for ammonia ingestion. It seems intuitive that schoolkids shouldn’t be, either. The fact that they have to use ammonia in the first place is a symptom of the larger problem of industrial meat production. That these scraps are teeming with deadly bacteria in the first place is a result of the appalling conditions in feedlots (or CAFOs). The meat industry, in defense of pink slime, laughably touts the “sustainability” of using all parts of the cow, as though these people give one whit about environmentally-friendly farming practices. And then there’s the fact that the stuff is just low-quality, non-nutritious crap, the logical endpoint of a system built on layers and layers of crap. Is this really the best we can do for our kids?


  • Tom

    When I read this I first thought of a line from a sci-fi novel I read,* in which a villager tells a visitor who is trying to buy a ship that “everything is for sale here, including the virtue of our daughters.” Because this mystery meat tells me that in today’s America everything, including the health and well-being of schoolchildren, is for sale. Sure it’s a sickening concoction of animal waste and industrial chemicals – but it makes a profit! Have we really sunk this low?

    (* King David’s Spaceship, Jerry Pournelle)

  • ET

    Pink Slime: Available at your local neighborhood grocery and anywhere Sysco and U.S. Food Service delivers…. See the dialogue at

  • RD1

    You wrote: “The fact that they have to use ammonia in the first place is a symptom of the larger problem of industrial meat production.”

    But one could also write “The fact that they have to use pasteurization in the first place is a symptom of the larger problem of industrial milk production.” Milk is not “teaming with bacteria,” nor is the beef. Pasteurization and ammonia are both used as a preventative.

    Lean beef trimmings (LBT, aka pink slime) is usually mixed with other beef and comprises no more than 15% of the ground hamburger that results. Yet the NY Times article seems to conflate processed hamburger that contains LBT with LBT and implies that any contamination was from the LBT when contamination could have come from another supplier, the processor or even the kitchen or restaurant in which it is cooked. The NYT does give one sentence to acknowledge that “no outbreak has been tied to Beef Products.”

    For a bit of balance, I recommend this article published by the Washington Post 18 months prior to the NYT article:

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.