Tag Archives: ground beef

Beyond Beef Taco Night

If you have school aged children in any sort of activities you understand the struggle of dinner.  The solution, in my house, is taco night.  A few minutes of prep with some ground beef and a bevy of on hand ingredients mean a quick dinner before running out the door to dance or soccer practice or band…you get the idea.

However, ground beef is an ethical and environmental conundrum.  Regardless of how the animal is raised the production of ground beef results in the death of a cow.  No amount of time on pasture can change this fact.  Furthermore, most cows are raised in conditions that most people find deplorable.  Feedlots and CAFOs are horrible places.  Just driving by one on the interstate can make a person consider becoming a vegan.

America just loves ground beef.  More than half of the beef we consume in this country is in the form of ground beef.  Be it hamburgers, sloppy joes, loose meat sandwiches, chili, etc. Americans eat a lot of ground beef.  Estimates are hard to come by, but the clearest numbers I have seen put our annual consumption north of 30 billion pounds of ground beef consumed in the United States per year.  Most of that ground beef (>80%) comes from feedlot cattle.

This is the market that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are trying to disrupt with their plant based alternative “hamburgers.”  The ground beef market is not just hamburgers thought and that is where Beyond Meat’s Beyond Beef product comes into play:


It comes out of the package looking a little bit like a brick of protein:


After a few minutes on medium-high heat the protein begins to break up into that recognizable crumble:


A package of taco seasoning and a little bit of water gives you a pan full of taco meat.  It all worked just like cooking a pound of regular ol’ ground beef.

So, what is the verdict?

The process is the same as cooking traditional ground beef.  That is a wash.

The flavor is…close.  The texture is…close.  I do not know if it is psychological because I knew it was not actual ground beef or if it is something in the formulation.  It was just a little off in the same way that some meatless burger patties are off.  Perhaps it is the uncanny valley of fake meat.  No longer are we in the trough of the uncanny valley where the simulated product is off by enough to make it truly disturbing.  Instead we are climbing toward true meat replacements in every facet that only lack a few traits.

This has to be what is scaring traditional meat producers into strong arming state legislatures to pass laws banning the word meat or burger or whatever from faux meat products.  When someone who is conscious of the ethical and environmental impacts of meat production is given an alternative that has none of those concerns their choice is going to be easy.  If the meat alternative is close enough in taste and texture than it is a slam dunk for a larger percentage of the population.  Like Republicans holding onto an ageing base of older, rural, white Americans at the expense of a changing national demographic the meat industry is facing an existential crisis brought on by a competitor.

Beyond Beef is not cheap.  At my local coop it cost $9.99 per pound.  Compare that to a pound of grass fed, grass finished beef produced in Minnesota that costs anywhere from $6.99 to $8.99 a pound from the same retailer.  Consider it the cost of being an early adopter.

Friday Linkage 10/20/2017

Days without being an international embarrassment: 0.

Do I even need to tell you who I am talking about?  The thing that amazes me most about the incompetent orangutan in the Oval Office is that no matter what the issue or topic of the day may be he finds a way to make it about himself and how he is better than any other man to ever hold the office.  His need for a constant stream of affirmation of his supposed excellence on any topic is a field day for arm chair psychologists and political observers.  When the final days of this putrid presidency wind down in a few years—has it really only been nine months—the historians will take decades to unravel the shit storm.

On to the links…

Interior Secretary Zinke Has A Flag Raised When He’s At HQ—Scott Pruitt has a special phone booth and a private security army while Ryan Zinke thinks that the Department of the Interior is his personal military command.  What is it with Trump and his minions having to declare dominion over everything that they survey?  The inferiority complexes are stunning.

Secretary Zinke, it’s Time to Call it Quits—I think this is really a race between Zinke and Tillerson.

Scott Pruitt’s Quest to Kill Obama’s Climate Regulations is Deeply Shady — and Legally Vulnerable—Is Scott Pruitt the shadiest person in government in a long time?  He is essentially a self-admitted shill for the fossil fuel industry who is going about his day with a plan drafted by those same interests.

Perry Questions Value of ‘Free Market’ in Energy—The free market, like religious freedom for Republicans, is great as long as it supports your pet cause but when it causes damage to the pocketbooks of your masters it is unacceptable.  In the drive to placate the coal barons the Trump administration has pissed off just about everyone else involved in energy.  Too bad for them that the total of everyone else is a hell of a lot bigger and more important than what remains of the coal industry.

Coal Country is Finding Little Relief in Trump’s Climate Actions—It was not the government that was killing coal, it was the free market.  People and companies were voting with their dollars to support non-coal sources of energy.

4 Signs that Trump’s Furious Efforts to Save Coal are Futile—When an industry pins all of its hoped on a huckster more famous for a b-grade reality show and bankruptcies you know times are desperate.

The War on Coal is Over. Coal Lost.—All that remains is the rear guard action on the long retreat.  The question is how much additional damage will be done during the long retreat.

This is What America’s Eco City of the Future Looks Like—The future is green and powered by renewables.  Even in Texas.

Americans are willing to pay $177 a year to avoid climate change—We need to keep pounding home the message that climate change is real and that the tools are available to prevent the worst of its impacts.  All that is required is political will and a measure of sacrifice, whether that is economic or social.

The Future of Renewable Energy—What will renewable energy systems look like in a few years?  Now that we have moved beyond niche applications we need to ask ourselves these larger questions.

Electrifying Heating—I have thought about this topic somewhat lately now that I produce my own electricity on my roof.  If I added a similar size solar photovoltaic system on my southeast facing roof I would be able to heat my home with the sun via electricity.  I cannot make natural gas at home, but I can make electricity.

World’s First Floating Wind Farm now Operating in Scotland—Technology like floating wind turbines allows for less expensive construction in deeper water with less environmental impact.  Sort of like a win-win that opens up more sites for offshore wind development.  As if coal needed some more bad news.

Regreening The Earth Could Lower Carbon Levels As Much As Ending Use Of Fossil Fuels—Why don’t we do both?  What would a national program of regenerative forestry practices, improved grassland management, and general regreening do for our planet and our economy? I think it would be huge.  Not yuge, just huge.

This Is How to Substitute Lentils for Ground Beef—If everyone made a few substitutions like this on a weekly basis we would be a long way to reducing the greenhouse gas impact of our food choices.  Remember, meat is a huge source of our personal emissions.

To Uber or Not? Why Car Ownership may no Longer be a Good Deal—I am already beginning to see this with some colleagues who have children in college.  Instead of trolling the dorms for that one person with a car they just split an Uber X to go to the store or choose to have items delivered instead of doing it themselves.  I believe it is more than a simple story about replacing rides with Uber or other car sharing services, but rather replacing the utility provided by a personal automobile with a portfolio of services.

Republicans versus Pink Slime

Notionally, Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and our own Terry Branstad of Iowa are conservatives and Republicans.  I separate the terms conservative and Republican because on certain issues Republicans do not behave like conservatives.

Recently, the three aforementioned governors stood proudly in support of Beef Products International and its pink slime…err lean finely textured beef.  The entire charade struck me as odd because here were bastions of the right wing defending pink slime by saying that the USDA had deemed the product safe.  It was as if these normally “government is evil” politicians had suddenly had a come to regulation moment.

The comedic display also perturbed Craig Robinson at the Iowa Republican.  Normally, I do not see eye to eye with Mr. Robinson on any issue, particularly his support of candidates who I abhor but a friend of mine who was a high school acquaintance of his pointed me to his thoughts on pink slime.  However, we agree on the political response to pink slime.  In his post entitled “What Ever Happened to Free Market Conservatives?” he posits:

Last time I checked, most Republicans believed in something called the free market.  If people don’t want their kids eating products that contain finely textured beef, that’s their prerogative.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the pro-pink slime crowd is going beyond just saying the product is safe.  Governor Branstad is encouraging schools to continue to use the product.  His actions might have also convinced the folks at Hy-Vee to reconsider pulling the product.   I understand why Branstad and others feel like this is a smear campaign, but at the end of the day, it’s the consumer who dictates to the market not the other way around.

This is what I have been trying to say for the past couple of weeks.  It is not the safety of pink slime that is in question.  It is the presence of pink slime in ground meat that was believed to be 100% ground beef and not Dr. Frankenstein’s ground meat product that is angering people.

What we are asking for is transparent choice.  In a perfect competition—something that free market conservatives used to believe in—consumers have total transparency to the products that they are buying and thus can make rational decisions.  Any degree of opacity benefits the corporations selling products because it retards the ability of the consumer to make a rational, fully informed choice.

Granted, the Iowa Republican turns around and goes back to the standard tripe in a “lessons learned” post later:

And finally, Republicans need to stand united with other agricultural groups and business and find common ways to assure the safety and stability of our food and our economy.

In the end, what is being said here is the principles do not matter when the paymaster comes calling.  The agricultural industrial complex is a huge political donation machine.  Terry Branstad alone received ~$150,000 from people tied to Beef Products International, the infamous maker of pink slime, but he assures us it has nothing to do with his full throated defense of the product.  He is just looking out for his constituents.  Whatever.

Check out the contributions of BPI owners and employees to political candidates as compiled by the Des Moines Register.  Lest people think I am piling on the Republicans, of the over $800K donated to state and federal campaigns less than 4% went to Democrats.

I do, however, question the ultimate wisdom of BPI owners Eldon and Regina Roth.  As you can see in the database linked to above, both are listed as frequent donors to serial candidate, election loser, and general bigot Bob “I really want to win elected office before I die” Vander Plaats.  This is the guy who led a campaign to recall the Iowa Supreme Court justices who sided with civil rights and equality in deciding to allow gay marriage.

Where’s the Pink Slime?

How is a person to know if the meat they buy contains pink slime?  On my morning trip to Hy-Vee I tried to figure it out.

The meat case gave no indication about what ground meat products might contain pink slime…er lean finely textured beef.  The only visible signage indicated the “natural” state of the meat, particularly any Amana or angus varietals.

Here is what the label on  a package of 93% lean ground beef looks like:

It does not mention the possibility of any adjuncts being included, but it does not exclude them either.  I particularly love where the asterisk after “all natural” leads.  The qualifier reads “Contains no artificial ingredients, only minimally processed.”  Hmmmm…

Does this sound like something that is minimally processed: The “pink slime” is made by gathering waste trimmings, simmering them at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle, and spinning the trimmings using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. The process is completed by packaging the meat into bricks. Then, it is frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef.  Check out the original article here.

Again, people are not upset about the safety of pink slime.  We are upset that it is a bizarre product being added to something that we thought was 100% meat and truly minimally processed.  We did not expect Dr. Frankenstein’s meat derived filler.

Terry Branstad Does Not Get It

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, along with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Texas Governor Rick Perry, toured a production facility where pink slime…er finely textured lean beef is made.

Check out the short video story.

What really struck me was the comment made by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad at approximately 1:50 in the story.  In response to a question from the media about pink slime he said, in short, that the questioner did not “get it.”  Get what Governor Braindead?

The controversy about pink slime is not about the safety of the product in its end state?  The controversy is about the fact that when a person buys ground beef it may contain a product that does not in any way resemble what we perceive to be ground beef.

Like the Taco Bell taco meat filling controversy, people are upset that there is an adjunct in their ground beef.  Furthermore, the fact that the adjunct is like some kind of food product from the sequel to Soylent Green.  No one would be surprised if a guy came running out of a BPI facility yelling “Pink slime is people!!!”

In 1906, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was released and led to a movement for increased food standards.  Sinclair himself said that the leading issue for people was not the treatment of the workers, which was the focus of the book, but the fact that people did not want to eat bad beef.

The controversy is the same.  People do not want to eat pink slime regardless of its safety.

People like Terry Branstad should stop trying to sell people on the merits of the product and stand up for the citizens of his state who are upset over the adulteration of their ground beef.  Too bad it won’t happen because he is in the pocket of the meat packers.

How much is Terry Branstad in the tank for the beef industry?  Let us see…

In 201o, when Branstad’s comeback bid for the governor’s office was successful, he received $150,000 in contributions from the founder of BPI–the company at the center of the pink slime controversy.  He does say that those contributions had nothing to do with his decision to defend pink slime.  Really?


Hy-Vee Buckles Under the Pressure

There may be a smile in every aisle, but there is apparently little spine.

Earlier in the week I lauded Hy-Vee for making the decision to remove ground beef tainted with pink slime…er, lean finely textured beef.  Now it appears like Hy-Vee is buckling to political pressure and will again have the product in its meat cases alongside non-tainted ground beef.  Lame.

The current governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, and the former governor of Iowa, current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, were showering the love on pink slime this week.  Vilsack was particularly vehement in his assertion that if pink slime were not safe than the USDA, which is under his purview, would not approve the product for sale or consumption.

Never mind that this controversy was less about the actual safety of the product and more about the disgusting manner in which it is produced.  Why should we believe that the USDA is such a vigilant protector of our food safety and not just a shill for the very companies it is meant to regulate?  Is this the same Secretary Vilsack who announced the closure of over 250 USDA offices and a “streamlining” of agency practices in January of 2012?  Is this the same USDA that recalled beef patties for a possible E. Coli contamination in March? 

Our regulation and enforcement regime relative to food in the United States is a mess, so the government telling me that something is safe to eat is no panacea.  Where was the government in enforcement of rules for egg producers or peanut butter manufacturers or any of the other food recalls we have seen over the past decade?  Late to the game and a dollar short in punishment or rectification of the problem.

What this shower of love is really about is pressure being exerted by major corporations on political leaders.  Why am I so sure?  Where does BPI have a facility that makes pink slime?  Waterloo, Iowa.  Just sayin…

However, what the controversy over pink slime has shown to people is that their opinion does matter and that righteous indignation can affect change.  The battle is not over and the opponents are merely girding their loins for the field of battle, but change can happen in our lifetimes.  Even if it is just one pound of ground beef at a time.

I am just waiting for Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum to be holding up a package of ground beef declaring,  “Obama can have my pink slime when he pries it from my cold dead hands!”  Branstad and Vilsack just do not pander quite like presidential candidates.