The Magical Science of Beans

We already know the pink slime issue has been engaged in a full court press (even while the pink slime company itself declared bankruptcy). So it’s not surprising to see even the science press parroting the talking points being pushed by the pink slime industry. Sure, it concedes that pink slime might be unappetizing, but it hews to countering the straw man argument that the ammonia–rather than the underlying conditions that require the ammonia–makes the pink slime unsafe.

If you’ve eaten a hamburger in the last 50 years, you’ve eaten pink slime. And if you’ve eaten breakfast cereals, cheeses, custard, mustard, macaroni salad, potato salad or a whole host of other products that Americans eat each and every day, there’s a good chance that ammonia was added. That knowledge may not make our food very appetizing to the newly informed American consumer, but it doesn’t make the food less safe.

The rest of the column, though, spins the pink slime industry as a rational response to the challenge of feeding an expanding population.

The patent, which was eventually granted to Armour and Company in 1962, is a rather unappetizing read for modern eyes, describing the “finely divided meat slurry” which is “mechanically separated by centrifugation.” But the problem that this patent was trying to solve was a serious and urgent one: how do we feed as many people as possible, as nutritiously as possible, while producing less waste?

Thanks to America’s baby boom following World War II, one of the most daunting challenges of the 1950s and ’60s was figuring out how to feed millions of new mouths. Even the most optimistic futurist thinkers knew that America’s rapidly growing population would require much more efficient methods of production if there was to be enough food to go around.

Note, it’s Science Digest writer Matt Novak who calls this a daunting challenge, not the scientists and capitalists of the day. And he does so even while hinting at a very simple solution to this “daunting” challenge.

The realization that beef is a terribly inefficient way to provide Americans with protein was recognized even before the 1970s. The 1957 book “The Next Hundred Years,” written by Harrison Brown, James Bonner and John Weir, includes a graph which lays out the different protein returns one can expect from raising beef or milk or soybeans. Spoiler alert: Beef is the least efficient.

Stop. End of article. You’ve solved your daunting problem!


Now, frankly, I love beef–and love eating it when I can vouch for the conditions in which it was raised and slaughtered.

But I don’t kid myself. At times when tight budgets have forced me to find more economical ways of eating, I did what billions on the planet do: choose plant-based proteins over the very extravagant (both in terms of real and environmental cost) beef. It doesn’t take a science degree to understand this (though it does take the ability to read through meat industry propaganda).

Now, Science Digest may–in the interest of earning enough money to pay for their extravagant beef–be willing to spin in such shameless fashion. But all the meat pills and pink slime and other invented technological fixes for a very simple problem have not been able to compete with the wonderful magical bean, either in health benefits or safety.

Next up? While calling for a Congressional investigation into the nefarious plot that exposed how gross pink slime is, IA Governor Terry Branstad also offered pink slime as a solution for obesity.

19 replies
  1. pdaly says:

    But don’t polysaccharides in some beans lead to fermentation in the human colon and thereby produce methane and carbon dioxide gas? Hoping not a significant new source of global warming. Ahem.

    The pink slime passing for food had me thinking (maybe unfairly) of the “molecular food” chef Grant Achatz at Chicago’s Alinea restaurant.

    I’ve never eaten there but I’ve read that Achatz likes to break food down into its component parts and with the help of chemistry, freezers, water baths, and centrifuges, trick the eye and mouth with concentrated flavors or new unexpected flavor pairings.

    BUt if Achatz is against pink slime (and I haven’t heard one way or the other), then that would be a plus.

  2. MadDog says:

    Can it be true that there are whispers about Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen, suing Planned Parenthood for harassment over the use of the words “pink slime”?

    While the world waits with bated breath, we all place orders for bean burgers, hold the mayo.

  3. central texas says:

    I think it is rather a stretch to consider any of the links included above to represent or be a member of “the science press”. Yes, there is a lot of money at the bottom of the food chain and yes those fearing the decisions of consumers would very much like this to go away. These folks are not scientists. They are the usual corporate lickspittles and mouthpieces performing for money and prestige.

  4. orionATL says:

    it’s 1956 and “we’ll all be starving some day”.

    it’s 2012 and obesity is considered a major health problem for american children as well as for american adults and pink slime played a role in that developinment.

    learning how to make salable food out of bits and pieces of offal was never about feeding more people;

    it was about making money by selling people hidden slaughter house floor scrapings as part of “hamburger” – beef and pink slime on a sesame seed bun.

    if novak wanted to write about activities that saved millions from starvation, he could write about norman borlag, about IRRI in the philippines, about ir-8 rice, about wheat in mexico.

    he could write about agricultural science and agricultural engineering (did you know that getting crops to dry adequately is a major food and health problem in many countries?). these two disciplines truly have put food on tables, but not for profit or for increasing corporate profit margin.

    novak should be embarrassed by this half-assed piece of contrarian sophistry. but he probably isn’t.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Beef is a wildly inefficient way to deliver protein to the human diet. Among other problems, they are fed on federally subsidized, mono-cultured, genetically-modified corn/maize (about 90% of which comes from patented seeds “owned” by Monsanto); growth hormones and antiobiotics. All those things are delivered, as is the resulting beef, via federally subsidized gasoline.

    Factory-raised cattle that form part of the bovine protein delivery system are housed and fed as if they were geese reared for liver to make foie gras. One reads about the campaign to stamp out foie gras, but not industrial beef. These cattle are slaughtered just before their over-corn-fed livers give out, often by undocumented workers that work in near windowless abattoirs in the prairie hinterlands, far from newspaper reporters, TV cameras, unionizers, both FDA and OSHA inspectors.

    Grass-fed cattle produce, however, wonderful steaks. But beef remains an inefficient way to convert sunlight into feed into protein. At least they and the meat they yield don’t suffer from the industrial methods adopted by agricultural and chemical company monopolists that deliver the bulk of grocery store meats, poultry and fish, just as they deliver over-processed corn, corn sweeteners, corn starches and corn-based preservatives in the form of breakfast cereals and virtually every other commodity in the middle 2/3’s of the average grocery store’s shelves.

    The issue is not efficiency or lower prices, but nutrition. The American/Western diet is a disease, not a cure. Its sweetener content, most of which is corn-based, is great for dentists and obesity service providers. But it won’t yield anything like mom’s chicken soup circa pre-1945. As for the pink slime, I thought the most popular Soylent product was the green stuff.

  6. Frank33 says:

    Forgive me but I must say it, because laughter is the best medicine.

    “Dude, Its Beef!”

    Is science? I like them anyway.

    Last week, former United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist-turned-whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein revealed that 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets contained the fake-meat additive which is commonly referred to as “pink slime”. This revelation came on the heels of reports that the USDA is purchasing 7 million pounds of the product for school lunches in public schools.

  7. P J Evans says:

    The realization that beef is a terribly inefficient way to provide Americans with protein was recognized even before the 1970s.

    My science teachers made sure we heard about that in the mid-60s.
    I eat a lot of turkey and chicken – beef is more of a treat. But my burgers are usually In-n-Out, which makes their own, so no ‘pink slime’. (AFAIK.)

  8. MadDog says:

    Totally OT – Via Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick of the WaPo:

    Al-Qaeda’s online forums go dark for extended period

    “Al-Qaeda’s main Internet forums have been offline for more than a week in what experts say is the longest sustained outage of the Web sites since they began operating eight years ago.

    No one has publicly asserted responsibility for disabling the sites, but the breadth and the duration of the outages have prompted some experts to conclude that the forums have been taken down in a cyberattack — launched perhaps by a government, a government-backed organization or a hackers’ group…”

  9. orionATL says:



    it’s called “suppression of speech we don’t like because we have an excuse to suppress it.”

    that excuse is the ever present for the last 60 yrs “our national security”.

    “it could be a government, …, or it could be a bunch of hackers” –


    both categories are equally interested in shutting down radical muslim speech?

  10. dustbunny44 says:

    “…America’s rapidly growing population would require much more efficient methods of production if there was to be enough food to go around.”

    Wow! Monsanto, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and the likes of McDonalds are all really socialist organizations!
    Who knew?

  11. pdaly says:


    Wow. No doubt the bean and chocolate industries are aware of a potential spokeswoman for their product.

    For family style meal ads, however, they’ll have to adjust something.
    Namely, she never eats–just plays with her food. Talk about starving at a banquet. ;-)

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Ammonia-washed shredded beef muscle, tendons, fat and whatnot, whatever can be mechanically scraped off the bone. Hmmm, hmmm, good. It sounds more like a recipe for McDonald’s Beef Nuggets. That pink slime becomes classified as an “edible food product” must astound even the makers of Velveeta.

    Ever since Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle, processed beef monopolies have reaped profits by selling us parts of animals that used to be thrown away as garbage. In the early days of canning, their predecessors sold millions of tins of rotten beef to soldiers in the trenches of WWI, with predictable results. Profiteering isn’t just for wars any more.

  13. bob snell says:

    Great article about beans and the important role they will have in our future. You have convinced me not to eat commercial hamburger any more from grocery stores or restaurants.

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