Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jamie Oliver

I kind of have to admit, I love this guy. He has leveraged his celebrity into not more celebrity, but into actual conciousness raising, actual change. His British School Dinners series made significant changes to the way English children eat at school. When it was shown on the food network here in Canada, it sparked the formation of dozens of groups across the country. Engaged activist parents who began to pay attention to food at school.
Then Jamie took on school food in the USA with Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. While he didn't have the effect he'd hoped for, what with being turned away from 75 LA school districts when he offered them an opportunity for a cafeteria makeover. America really didn't want anyone to know what kind of crap they were feeding their kids in school. But then this happened:

Jamie showed off the "pink slime" or "finely textured lean ground beef" used as a filler product in commercial ground beef. A USDA study shows that pink slime is used in about 70% of all commercially made ground beef in the US.
Well, things happened. Things like this report from ABC News on 21 March 2012:

Safeway, the #2 supermarket chain in the US is now refusing to stock ground beef containing the filler.That's success. In Colorado, parents have pushed school districts to reject beef using the filler. That's success.
And back in the UK, The Guardian reports that a study published in The Journal of Health Economics  shows:

Jamie Oliver's healthy school dinners continue to produce a marked improvement in national curriculum test results five years after the chef first launched his campaign, according to research.
A study by academics shows children eating the healthier lunches introduced by the TV chef do far better in tests.
Absenteeism from sickness was also said to have dropped by around 14%.
And it is claimed that a child eating the healthier food will earn between £2,103 and £5,476 more over their lifetimes due to their improved literacy.
So you get why I love this guy? Impact. And a positive impact at that.  And it's exactly this kind of impact that has caused industrial food to pursue "ag gag" bills in various state legislatures in the US.Because if you don't know about it, they can keep doing it--no matter what "it" is.

UPDATE: Read a report that said that three of Beef Products Inc.'s four factories producing "pink slime" have been closed for 60 days, pending a review of demand.  The closure may be permanent. Like I said, impact.

UPDATE II: Reuters is reporting that  
Ground beef processor AFA Foods filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, citing the impact of the uproar over a meat filler dubbed "pink slime" by critics.
The Daily Mail Online is headlining that
'Pink slime' company files for bankruptcy amid controversy over the ammonia treated filler

Jamie Oliver + social media = Chapter 11 proceedings.
I'm guessing that for the company's managers this was like being punched by Mike Tyson with no warning. Can't say that I'm feeling all that concerned for them, although this will affect 650 workers in multiple plants. Defenders, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, seen here chowing down on a "pink slime burger"
(an AP photo that runs with the Daily Mail Online article) claim that the substance was "safe to eat." Don't know that anyone was saying it was "unsafe to eat,"  just that we didn't want to eat the damned stuff. And because it was labelled "finely textured lean ground beef" rather than "ammonia-treated mechanically recovered waste meat-like substance" in general people got a bit perturbed. Interesting that the University of Guelph has chosen today to announce that it will no longer be pursuing research on the "enviro-pig," a pig designed to better withstand the industrial farm conditions under which it would be raised.
Call me crazy, call me idealistic, but you know what I believe? I believe that when you're making a hamburger for human consumption, you should at no time deem it necessary or desirable to treat its ingredients in ammonia. Or any cleaning product, for that matter.
I don't think that's asking a lot--and I don't ask a lot for my fellow burger-eaters. Only that whatever it is that you're putting in my hamburger? That laid out on a table or cutting board prior to grinding, it at least resembles something that your average American might recognize as "meat."

Update III
Over at the Food Integrity Campaign, there's a really nifty timeline of the "pink slime" issue, from it's beginings to the almost total rejection of the product in this past week.  Also, back in 2009, the New York Times ran an excellent article (it must have been, it won awards) about the use of ammoniated beef and the problems that were apparent with the product even then.
You know, I started out wanting to talk about a chef who has leveraged his celebrity to try and do some good in the world. I really didn't see this explosion coming, thinking it was just one more example of the crap we're stuck with eating ,and that until there was a revolution we would continue to be stuck with eating. But, man, did this thing ever achieve critical mass in a hurry!

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