What does that topical phrase make you think of? No, it is not the villain for the new superhero blockbuster, nor is it a distant relative to red tide. Pink slime has become somewhat of a rallying cry, not so much for food safety, or against food processing, but a sort of general cry against things that are, for lack of a better word, really gross. The outcry against pink slime has been heard loud and clear, as many school districts, fast food companies, and meat processors have scrambled to distance themselves from this lean meat additive that has given everyone a strong disinclination and disgust towards processed meat products. A handful of “pink slime” manufacturing plants have, because of this antipathy, closed down. We as consumers feel shaken, but momentarily a bit more at ease with our meat.
But around every corner there is another additive or industrial processing of animal products that threaten to destroy our appetite. A few weeks ago it was “tuna scrape,” and now it is something called “meat glue.” The given name alone is enough to inspire repulsion. This meat glue is essentially a powdered enzyme, formally known as transglutaminase (TG) and beef fibrin, used to bind smaller cuts of beef and pork and form consistently sized, uniformly shaped larger steaks. The process is really quite amazing, as are the results, but not as appetizing as one would hope (see video here).
The big concern is that this binding additive is being used surreptitiously to deceive consumers by turning smaller, inexpensive cuts of meat into what appear to be premium cuts, therefore a few chunks of chuck steak suddenly, through the magic of TG, becomes a thick serving of filet mignon. Ajinomoto North America and Fibrimex, the two companies that manufacture the enzyme product say the enzymes find their way into only a fraction of the meat sold in the country. A typical use, they said, was to help bind two, triangular-shaped beef tenderloins together to create a uniform filet that might wind up being served in a restaurant, casino or banquet hall or on a cruise ship. There also remains a concern about food safety and food-illness, as some critics say that the process of gluing meat together necessitates thorough cooking (not always what the customer orders). However, most health officials say the enzyme and the process of binding meat are totally safe.
Even so, binding cuts of meat together just doesn’t sit well with most – obviously not the vegetarian population, nor the meat lovers among us. But when you stop to consider all that goes into butchering/harvesting an animal and breaking down the cow, or pig, into its component parts, is it really any more objectionable, or repellent, than mixing some enzymes with raw flesh to get the desired shape and size of dinner? Are we choosing to get lost in the details and not see that the entire operation of getting animal to plate is just something we’d rather not know anything about?
Maybe it is gut check time?