What does it say about America’s moral investments that corporations can buy out a government agency designed to protect us, sue media outlets for cutting into profits, and then claim that [pink slime] is, well, health food?
When the science-fiction film Soylent Green was released in 1973, critics celebrated everything about it except the premise. New York Times film critic A.H. Weiler declared that the movie’s twenty-first century setting was “occasionally frightening but…rarely convincingly real.” How could a population unwittingly eat and enjoy human remains in the form of the popular food product, Soylent Green? Unfortunately, the parallels between this sci-fi classic and modern corporate food production would cause Mr. Weiler to spit out his hamburger in disbelief.
In March 2012, ABC News led the media in breaking the story of a company, Beef Products Inc., that takes slaughterhouse byproducts, throws them in a centrifuge, and squeezes out the ground remains through a tube of ammonium hydroxide. Known to Beef Products Inc., as Lean Finely-Texturized Beef, the media quickly dubbed the product “pink slime,” or “soylent pink.” LFTB cannot be sold by itself directly to consumers, but is instead purchased by other companies to add to ground beef products such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and prepackaged ground beef. Few consumers knew about the existence of soylent pink, especially since meat products can legally contain up to 15% LFTB without a label stating so.
Outrage began to develop as people learned that LFTB was comprised of multiple animals’ offal, and thus necessitated chemical treatment to reduce the unusually high levels of bacteria present in such remains. When consumers realized that the government was planning to buy seven million pounds of the so-called “pink slime” for the school lunch program this year, the anger over soylent pink mushroomed. We were eating and feeding our children pulverized brain, organs, and fecal matter—and had no clue.
To be fair to the food corporations, Soylent Green and soylent pink differ in that the latter is probably not comprised of people—at least most of the time. Modern methods of meat processing, however, leave a lot to the imagination. Packaging for meat usually shows either a tranquil animal out in a field or a cartoon, not the more true-to-life assembly line in a slaughterhouse. Dr. Elizabeth Hagen, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety, corroborates this with her recent comment: “I don’t think your average consumer probably knows a lot about how food is produced.” Corporate food culture has separated consumers from the realities of meat production, and soylent pink was able to drift into the market largely without consumer detection. We were unwittingly enjoying it in the form of America’s most iconic foods, and before consumers knew what was in soylent pink and how it was made, people loved it. Fast food hamburgers, hot dogs, and most all processed beef products sold in cafeterias and grocery stores contained LFTB.
The same confusion over food origins plagues the citizens of New York in Soylent Green’s dystopian setting, where the majority of the population subsists solely on Soylent products of dubious composition. In the film, Soylent Corporation is the only provider of food for average citizens in a world of depleted resources, where no more natural food grows. Said to be derived from plankton, their new popular food is called Soylent Green. Since Soylent food is all that is available to everybody but the elite, in a poverty-stricken and hot-as-hell New York, riots abound and are squashed by police brutality when the supply of Soylent Green is exhausted at a rations distribution center.