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Pink Slime

Pink-slimeI missed all the pink slime oozing through the news media recently.

(If you have been living under the same rock as me, "pink slime" is the name given to the small shreds of meat that are separated from the discarded fat and viscera of slaughtered cows in giant centrifuges. It's then passed through gases that kill harmful bacteria and mixed with other ground meat. The USDA approved the process, but a disenting inspector dubbed it "pink slime," and when the practice became public, great controversy ensued.)  

A friend brought all this to my attention because she is using it in a communications class she teaches.

As she described the situation, it did seem to have all the elements of a classic case in crisis communications.

An industry is caught trying to hide its practices behind the veil of obfuscating euphemisms (call it "lean finely textured beef" or, better yet, "LFTB").

Politicians rush to the industry's defense (the governors of the beef-raising and slaughtering states of Texas, Kansas, and Iowa toured one of the LFTB factories and ate an LFTB hamburger for the media's benefit).

Social media generate a level of attention the lamestream media couldn't (the New York Times ran articles on the practice as long ago as 2009, but it didn't capture anyone's attention until some angry consumer Tweets went viral).

In self-defense, the industry has been buying up Google ad words to direct anyone searching "pink slime" to their own web site

I can see how this could fill classes in everything from rhetoric to ethics and politics, not to mention the culinary arts.

But to me the real lesson is more basic -- it's amazing what you can accomplish when you appeal to people's most basic instincts. In this case, that would be our natural feelings of disgust when confronted with something disagreeable, like viscera.

It's in the same category as Jonathan Haidt's masters thesis on eating the family dog, which kicked off his prolific career studying the sources of human morality.

The USDA has declared pink slime "safe to eat." It seems to me that it's fine to question that finding, using as much scientific data as one can muster.

And I don't blame vegetarians for objecting to the consumption of animals on ethical grounds. They are at least consistent in not seeing much difference between eating pink slime and a porterhouse steak.   

Nor do I have much of an argument with the likes of PETA and other activists who object to the way some animals are treated in stock yards and food factories. They at least are concerned with the treatment of animals while they are senient beings, not simply at the final stages of processing.

But much of this controversy seems to rest of the exploitation of people's basest instincts.

That in itself is kind of slimy.



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