Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hand Signals

Don't ask me how I managed this, but it wasn't until this weekend - almost four years after we came to beat-around-the-bush America - that I had cause to explain the meaning of the word "euphemism" to my son.

Although premature Alzheimer's appears to have robbed me of the ability to remember what exactly triggered this teaching moment, I distinctly remember launching into my well-rehearsed lecture on bathrooms entirely bereft of tubs, restrooms that are more about unclenching than R&R, etc.

"That reminds me of something we do at school", my son replied.

Apparently, when children in his class want to ask or answer a question, they are told to raise one finger - the index, I should add, not the middle one, which has an entirely different connotation
. By contrast, if they have to go to the toilet (see above), they are supposed to put two fingers up in a kind of V-for-victory salute. And if their need is urgent, they must put up three.

He didn't say, but I do wonder if four fingers means "Too late".

Pink Slime

Enjoying that hamburger? You may want to finish it before reading on.

The picture on the left is not, as you might think, of a strawberry Mr Whippy. In fact it is what the meat industry calls "lean, finely-textured beef" or more blandly scientific, "LFTB". A less euphemistically minded food inspector dubbed it simply "pink slime".

When butchers cut away all the tasty bits from dead cows, what is left over (aside from skin and bone) is scraps, gristle, sinews and connective tissue. However, waste not, want not, so these leftovers are ground down, heated up and centrifuged to spin out any fat. And because at least some of this slurry is likely to have been in close contact with the myriad germs of the cow's typically poo-caked skin, the resultant sludge is sprayed with ammonia to kill off bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. It is then flash-frozen and labelled "beef".

Pardon? Yes, of course I'll wait while you go and vomit.


Better now? Good.

Pink slime is illegal for human consumption in the European Union and even Canada. Many countries only permit it to be used in dog food. So what happens in the US? Over here the powers-that-be say it's fine for us to eat.

For about two decades now, pink slime has routinely been added to the minced beef sold in shops across this great nation. The meat industry has been happy because it can sell more of its slaughtered animals, shops have been happy because their beef may contain up to 15% pink slime, which is far cheaper than regular beef, and consumers have been none the wiser because pink slime isn't mentioned as an extra ingredient since it is technically 100% pure beef - albeit with a petit bouquet d'ammoniaque.

Jamie Oliver tried drawing attention to the problem in his Food Revolution TV programme a while back. But nobody in this regulation-hating country listened to this mad cow of a limey who was clearly out to interfere with Americans' right to choose. So it wasn't until a home-grown mother and blogger starting kicking up a fuss this March that people starting seriously thinking about what it was they were eating.

Indeed so great was the ensuing outrage that major supermarket chains began taking products containing pink slime off their shelves en masse. And even McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King decided pink slime was too low-quality to serve their famously nutritionally-aware clientele.

Meanwhile, in its infinite wisdom, the US Department of Agriculture bought another 7 million pounds of pink slime for use in the National School Lunch Program.

Packed lunches today, kids. OK?