This paragraph has nothing to do with the rest of the column, but everything to do with the future and who wants to bury the lede? A lot of folks waxed glum after the primaries, but it is worth noting that it took only 214,545 Republicans voting for Santorum to reinforce the country’s assumption that Alabama is overrun with non-Darwinian theocrats. There are 2,977,718 active and inactive voters in the state. That’s pretty self-evident math. If you want to see something different happen in November, get busy now.
Enough now of food for thought. Let us discuss actual food. In previous efforts, whenever we’ve addressed the subject, all we’ve brought is bad news, and today is no different, unless you like a little extra connective tissue and ammonia in your hamburger.
Thank Gerald Zirnstein for introducing the words “pink slime” to our vocabulary. While toiling at the Department of Agriculture, Zirnstein coined the phrase to more colorfully describe what’s known in the meat-packing trade as “lean finely textured beef,” a heady mixture of carcass scraps and connective tissue treated with a gust of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill the salmonella and E. coli bacteria perhaps lurking within.
In the old days, these meat leftovers were sold to rendering plants and turned into dog food. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has bought seven million pounds of pink slime to feed to kids through the national school lunch program.
Though trending high today, actually pink slime has been a concern for 10 years. Zirnstein first raised objections to its production in 2002 after inspecting a facility owned by Beef Products Inc. (if you saw the documentary Food Inc., you’ll recognize that firm’s fine work). More damning than calling it pink slime, the inspector didn’t even consider the substance to be ground beef at all. That didn’t stop the USDA from calling it meat and approving its distribution, thanks in part to the advocacy of Undersecretary of Agriculture Jo Ann Smith (a Bush One appointee, if you keep score at home) who nowadays is a member of the board of directors of Beef Products, Inc.
Eldon Roth, the founder of BPI, asserts that the product is “safe, wholesome and nutritious.” The American Meat Institute says, “The fact is, boneless lean beef trimmings are beef.” ABC News reports that 70 percent of the hamburger sold in America contains pink slime as a filler, and restaurants such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell have utilized it until recently, so it’s likely you’ve enjoyed a safe, wholesome and nutritious bellyful of pink slime at one point or another.
But what they hey, we eat hot dogs and live, don’t we?
Sadly, red meat is dreadful stuff for us to be eating, no matter how it’s processed, and the relaxation of regulation at the USDA level allows meat producers to take enormous liberties in processing. As reporters such as Martha Rosenberg have noted, meat is allowed to contain a wide variety of veterinary drugs, antibiotics and even pesticides ingested by the animals, and unlike E. coli, this stuff can’t be cooked out. Unless you’re buying meat specifically labeled “organic,” you cannot be sure of what you’re going to wind up eating.
Even vegetables are endangered, at least hereabouts. Governor Bentley, Rick Santorum’s bestest new bud, has decided the best way to balance the state budget is to quit funding the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, for a stupendous savings of $421,320.
That sum represents a 29 percent cut from the previous state budget, on top of a 40 percent cut in 2010. Too strapped to hire the kind of lobbyist that delivers the cheese, as Milton Montgomery might put it, the FMA has been getting no love on Goat Hill.
Which is pitiable, because the FMA offers a lot of bang for what few bucks it’s getting. The Authority, as the name implies, helps small farmers sell their harvest, through farmers markets, roadside stands and “u-pick” programs throughout the state. Is it effective? There were only 17 farmers markets in Alabama in 1999, but this year there will be 140 in operation.
That’s good news for consumers, who get first dibs on the freshest produce you can buy, direct from the grower. That’s great news for the farmers, who need these outlets to maintain their livelihood. The FMA’s “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign has been instrumental in drawing attention to the merits of community-supported agriculture, as well as providing information on where to buy local foods.
The Authority also helps folks to buy them. Through an initiative funded by that ol’ debbil federal government, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program provides vouchers for 60,000 aging Alabamans to buy fresh food at farmers markets. The FMA administers the SFMNP, which has brought $2 million into play in local community economies. Eliminate the FMA and you eliminate the program, making it that much harder for senior citizens to make ends meet.
Thanks to the legislature’s gift of HB56, local farmers face more difficulties bringing in the harvest. If the legislature takes away the Farmers Market Authority, it’ll be that much harder for the locals to sell what they raise. I don’t think local farmers can stand too much more help from the legislature.
The FMA, though, could use your help. If you enjoy Pepper Place, East Lake or any of the area farmers markets that have relied on the FMA to get started and keep going, maybe you could be the lobbyist the FMA can’t afford to hire. Maybe you could contact that state senator or state representative in your district and tell him or her how much you appreciate your farmers market and, in turn, the Farmers Market Authority.
We hope the FMA’s funding is not only restored, but augmented. It would leave a bitter taste if, in the Year of Alabama Food, we lost the organization responsible for helping us obtain the ingredients for all those dishes we crave so much.
Courtney Haden is a Weld columnist. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.