Thursday, March 22, 2012

It should be easy: English for the eater

by Alan Guebert

Ranchers have a well-earned reputation for speaking plain English plainly.
As such, cowboys instantly translate phrases like “government revenue enhancements” and “now pursuing other career opportunities” into “tax increases” and “got fired” without one twitch of their upper lip or one hitch in their giddyup.
So what do these straight talkers call “lean finely-textured beef,” the pieces of beef that, according to meatpacker mouthpiece J. Patrick Boyle, are so tiny they “are nearly impossible to separate using a knife” and must be heated slowly to separate the “fat from tissue,” then spun in a centrifuge before being sprayed with ammonia gas to kill any pathogens and flash frozen into, well…
Pink slime
Well, cowboys and their customers wouldn’t call it what two former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer, called it on ABC News March 7. They called it “pink slime.”
Nor would cowboys call it something that “kind of looks like play dough,” a suggestion from Kit Foshee, who ABC News identifies as “a corporate quality assurance manager at Beef Products Inc., the company that makes pink slime.”
Foshee, who knows both English and his company’s product well, adds that the “play dough” is “pink and frozen; it’s not what the typical person would consider meat.”
That’s if the “typical person” knew that pink slime — or lean finely-textured beef — even existed or that an estimated 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets today contains it.
Not a new thing
In fact, it’s a fair bet that few cowboys know what it is or that it’s been around for 20 years.
The irony to this slimy mess is that a cowboy — or at least one of Big Beef’s Big Bosses — Jo Ann Smith, a past president of the National Cattlemen’s Association, the forerunner of today’s National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and a former USDA food safety czar under the first President Bush, gave the process the government go-ahead to become what it is today: another reason for consumers to walk past the meat counter.
Beef trimmings
According to a Dec. 10, 1991, Kansas City Star story, Smith, while head of USDA meat inspection, had to choose between labeling this new technology “something like ‘beef trimmings’” — the meatpackers’ preferred phrase — or “what the underlings at USDA wanted it (called) …‘partially defatted beef.’”
Smith’s NCA pals liked “beef trimmings” because the more appealing phrase could “enhance the value of the beef carcass as much as $7 a head.”
Smith followed the money; she approved the “trimming” option and the trimming of dollars from unsuspecting consumers began shortly thereafter.

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