John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

Food Conversations

This time, not so much, thanks to the monumental yuck factor of pink slime.

I get the revulsion. The term—pink slime—is sickening. As food surprises go, gunk in your ground beef is a bombshell. Understandably, my friends didn’t ask for a critical evaluation of its pros and cons. They simply wanted it to go away. Similarly, public reaction led to restaurants and groceries competing to see who could distance themselves from the slime fastest and farthest.

Beyond its immediate effects, the slime scare presents a broader issue: the implications of transparency. The food industry has begun opening its doors so that everyone can see firsthand what goes into putting food on the table. Visibility is a good thing, but it also comes with some uncomfortable moments. Pink slime cannot be the model for how we handle those moments. What’s needed is candid conversation—before there’s a crisis.

When everyone in the food chain is talking, we get to share information, experiences, beliefs and even fears. When we’re talking to each other, minus third party filters or agendas, neither reason nor emotion can be ignored. What we learn from each other might lead food producers to change their practices or consumers to change their minds, but either way, maybe we’ll come to trust each other just a little bit more.

Even among my friends, pink slime was a test of trust. They were shocked, disgusted and angry. To their credit, they also were curious about parts of the story that got little attention, such as the product’s real name and makeup. Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) is small pieces of meat that are heated, run through a centrifuge to remove fat and treated to kill E. coli. And they were interested in how things might change without LFTB: higher hamburger prices, more imported beef and some meat industry workers losing their jobs.

We’ll never know how the pink slime narrative would have evolved if these parts of the story had been common knowledge. I’m afraid it wouldn’t have mattered. My skepticism is based on a highly credible measurement: YouTube hits. Four full months before most people had even heard of pink slime, the maker of LFTB put two clips about their product on the popular video sharing site. They have been watched a total of 15,434 times. A video that spurred the pink slime scare reached 1,358,162 views in a matter of days. Apparently icky is more interesting than information.

I’m not naïve enough to think the next time we hear something gross about food we’ll skip YouTube and go to the pages of Meat Science Journal. But balancing instincts with intellect is never a bad idea. The next pink slime-like episode should be more than just repulsive; it should spur conversations about food science and technology, food safety and affordability, sustainability and jobs. Food is a necessity; so too are thoughtful discussions about it.

If you’re interested in this conversation, Farm Bureau can lend a hand. We’re helping foodies, farmers and anyone who’s interested get acquainted and build relationships through social media groups, Grow and Know events and other opportunities. Let us know if you’d like to join the conversations. They’re fun, diverse, informative and passionate. Even when they’re talking about slime.