Using Social Media To Get “Pink Slime” Out of School Food

Over on my main blog, The Lunch Tray, I’m getting quite an education in the awesome power of social media.

On Monday, the online publication the Daily reported that the USDA has purchased ground beef for use in the National School Lunch Program containing, collectively, 7 million pounds of the substance commonly known as “pink slime.”  For those who aren’t familiar with pink slime, it’s a product (officially called “Lean Beef Trimmings”) produced Beef Products, Inc., a processing plant in South Dakota.  BPI injects a mixture of cooking oil and fatty beef trimmings (formerly used only for pet food and rendering, not human consumption) with ammonia hydroxide in an attempt to remove E. coli and salmonella.  (Because of where these scraps come from on the cow’s carcass, they’re more likely to be infected with pathogens than other meat.)

After a damning exposé of BPI’s practices by the New York Times in December, 2009, followed by a graphic demonstration of pink slime by Jamie Oliver on his “Food Revolution” show last summer, there has been growing consumer concern with the use of pink slime in food products.  For this reason, fast food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have agreed to stop using it in their food.
I had written about pink slime on The Lunch Tray in 2010 (“One Burger, Please, Extra Ammonia and Hold the E Coli“) and thought at that time that the USDA had decided to out an end to its use in school food.  But I was obviously mistaken, as the Daily story made clear.
I was outraged by the fact that American school children are being fed a product of questionable safety — and which wasn’t even regarded as fit for human consumption in the recent past —  so I decided to start my very first petition about it.  I posted the link on The Lunch Tray Tuesday morning, shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and then left the house to go about my day.
You can imagine my surprise when, hours later, the petition had garnered over 600 signatures.  By late afternoon, it had reached 1,000.  As of this writing, almost 3,500 people have signed on — and the number goes up every few minutes.  In the meantime, I’ve been interviewed about this issue by Channel Two News here in Houston, the petition has been mentioned in the Washington Post blog, and requests for more interviews are coming in.
I’ve been so gratified by this overwhelming response and hope that Spork Report readers will consider signing and sharing the petition as well.  And if you’d like more information on why pink slime has no place on our kids’ lunch trays, be sure to check out this excellent article posted by Tom Philpott today.

Before signing off, I’d like to make clear that although this is an HISD school food blog, I have no knowledge of whether the meat served to Houston students contains pink slime.  Indeed, because the federal government doesn’t require its labeling on ground beef, it’s very hard for any district to know whether or not the beef it uses contains this substance.

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[While I serve on HISD’s Food Services Parent Advisory Committee and the district’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), all views expressed here (and on The Lunch Tray) are entirely my own.]



Are School Soda Bans Useless?

A recent study reported yesterday by the New York Times Well blog indicates they may be.

The study, published in this week’s The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicinelooked at the sugary drink consumption of 7,000 fifth and eighth graders over a three-year period and its first conclusion isn’t so surprising:  when schools banned only soda but not other sugary drinks, sugary beverage purchases on campus did not drop as compared to schools with no beverage ban at all.

This points up the hollowness of a soda-only ban, which is what we now have here in Houston ISD; under our “pouring rights” contract with Coca-Cola, our middle and high school students can still purchase Minute Maid fruit drinks and Powerade from vending machines on campus.

It was the study’s second finding that was really discouraging.  On campuses where all sugary beverages were banned, students’ access to the beverages understandably dropped but their overall consumption of sugary drinks remained the same, implying that they were simply getting their sugary drinks off campus in the same quantities.

[One thing worth noting:  the study looked at the period between 2004 – 2007, when many districts were first instituting soda bans.  I’d like to say the age of the data casts doubt on the findings, but there’s no evidence that I know of to support the notion that kids’ soda and sugary beverage consumption has gone down in the last four or five years.]

The finding that kids will get their sugary drinks regardless of a school ban only points up the degree to which childhood obesity is a deeply complex problem, and one which isn’t entirely the school’s responsibility .   As I wrote in my comment on the Well blog post:

. . . . there’s only so much one can do at school to address the multi-faceted problem of childhood obesity. It’s home + school + marketing/media + lack of exercise + widespread availability of cheap, caloric foods. Each one of those pieces of the puzzle needs to be addressed . . . .

But as another Well commenter named Susan pointed out, there’s an equally important reason to ditch sugary beverages in schools:

There is something to be said for taking the moral high ground, even if it doesn’t reduce total sugar consumption. Setting an example is also important.

I couldn’t agree more.

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