Pink slime and the SFUSD


Let's start off with a basic assumption: This stuff is gross. If you eat hamburgers, you don't want to know what goes in them anyway, since it's never been pretty, but the idea of taking stuff so likely to be infected with e. coli that you have to run it through a centrifuge and the expose it to ammonia gas -- and then call it "food" -- is pretty icky even to me, and I eat sausage.

And like a lot of things in our world-class corporate agribusiness food system, nobody knew much about it until ABC News revealed that it's in most of the ground beef sold in America.

Which leads to the obvious question that Dana Woldow asked in BeyondChron today: Are San Francisco school kids eating pink slime?

It's actually not too hard to find out. The San Francisco Unified School District has a press office, and the folks there answer the phone, and it took me exactly four minutes to get ahold of Heidi Anderson, who told me that the district had contacted the Illinois-based food service it uses, and has been assured that pink slime is not on the mix or in the menu.

She sent me a March 9, 2012 memo from James Gunner, director of quality assurance at Preferred Meal Systems, which said:

Please be assured that Preferred Meal Systems does NOT use any lean fine textured beef in any of the burger or meat crumble products we produce. All of the beef we use comes from ‘block beef’, which are whole muscle meat trimmings. These trimmings are not pre-ground in any way similar to the lean fine textured beef. Preferred Meal Systems actually grinds its own beef from this block to produce its hamburger patties, Salisbury steak and crumbles which are then used in our customer’s meals.

How appetizing.

I have no reason to believe that's untrue, although I bet if we really wanted to check, the chemistry students at one of the high schools could run a test for ammonia traces in the school hamburgers.

I get Woldow's complaint -- the district could have put this up on its website, could have issued a press release, could have made more of an effort to get out ahead of this story. On the other hand, what passes for the education coverage in the mainstream media could have been better (and I'm to blame too -- I could have called SFUSD the minute the first word about this nastiness hit the news). In the old days, when the Chron and Ex had hundreds of staffers and TV news had big investigative teams and there were people scouring the city for stories, I suspect someone one would have asked this question a week ago, when the ABC news story broke.

That's part of the tragedy of the decline of newspapers (I know, I know, the dailies weren't much good even the glory days, and it's their own damn fault that they didn't keep up with technology, I get it, heard it, been there, done that, threw away the T-Shirt) -- we still count on reporters to do the work of monitoring local government, and until we all figure out a new way to make enough money to pay the staff, it's getting harder and harder to do. As Anderson told me: "We just haven't gotten an official query from the press on this."

Amazing. A week after a blockbuster story (and again, if ABC news didn't pay investigative reporters, none of us would have known anything about this) and nobody in the local news media thought to pick up the phone and call the SFUSD press office.

My usual parental concern didn't kick in on this one, in part because my elementary-school daughter alwasy brings her own lunch and my middle-school son, who loves animals, wants to be a vet and never ate much meat, has recently announced that he's a vegan. That's quite a challenge at the local school district -- there's not a whole lot of vegan fare in the cafeteria. Most of the protein in the veggie lunches comes from milk and cheese, which is understandable, I guess, since there's probably not enough demand for vegan food to justifiy a special set of entrees. But, you know, beans and rice. And vanilla soy milk.

The bigger problem here is that SFUSD gets so little money for its lunches that there aren't many options -- and the district doesn't have a central kitchen to cook better food locally. When Margaret Brodkin ran for school board, that was one of her issues, and I agree with it: In this food-obsessed (and rich) city, we ought to be able to figure out a way to get decent locally-produced food to the kids.

That, and the fact that the PR staff at public agencies need to start thinking like reporters, and getting news like this out to the public, because too often the reporters aren't doing it for them anymore.






The kids just went off campus to buy meals or brought their own. Kids are not going to unlearn a lifetime of bad eating habits, which they learn at home, from the 1 meal a day they eat at school. 5 out of 21 meals per week (and who knows how many snacks) is 25% - you can't change something 1/4 of the time and expect it's going to make a difference in learned habits.

In a better world we would have healthy, delicious local food available all the time to everyone. Hopefully that will happen at some point. But right now kids are eating bad food because their parents or guardians eat bad food. The schools have very little to do with it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

I agree that they could and should have done something to get ahead of this story...but let's remember that the government, unlike private interests, hardly ever focuses on PR (except for in elections of course). If they had enough of a PR staff to aggressively get out there, then people would be complaining about paying taxes for a PR department for a school district.

I can already hear it: "If they're doing their jobs WELL, why would they need a PR department?"

Kudos for checking on this, I was wondering myself.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

So that they can comment on stories that have nothing to do with them?

The school district needs more PR staff so they can have more diversity and holistic wellness, they need to benchmark their framework of anti-fuzzy logic so as to expand their analytics into alignment into another paradigm.

Posted by matlock on Mar. 16, 2012 @ 10:15 pm

I'm not sure why you're acting like ABC "broke the news" this week on pink slime. The New York Times did a huge series of articles on BPI's slime almost 3 years ago: and

Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2012 @ 9:04 am

Excellent point Guest.
Another 'exciting development' that has been in the works for years is about to emerge from the devil's workshop. The 'un-named' financier behind this atrocity is apparently Bill Gates, who never met a GMO product he didn't like - though I suspect he tries to avoid actually consuming them himself.

Posted by Patrick Monk RN on Mar. 16, 2012 @ 9:45 am

And has done so when the progressives were in charge over there. Typical prog bullshit - self righteous rhetoric followed with serving slop. in this case to the children! and Eric Mar gave this a stamp of approval as did Jane Kim!

Posted by Adachi for Mayor on Mar. 16, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

The school district doesn't serve the thing that you are complaining about, you are glad they don't but they should have made people aware that they don't? That is an odd twist on proving a negative.

translation "something I heard about, amongst the thousands of things I've heard about was not responded too by a group that has nothing to do with this specific thing I heard about. Even though they don't do the thing I heard about they don't exactly live up to my standards in some other area"

Posted by matlock on Mar. 16, 2012 @ 10:09 pm