Over the past several weeks, I’ve written about Bisphenol A and “Pink Slime;” remarkably, considering the speed of our news cycle, these issues are still working their ways into headlines. Last week, Beef Products, Inc. started fighting back against what it sees as a smear campaign against its now infamous processed beef product, and Marion Nestle continued offering some of the best commentary on the issue. At roughly the same time, Federal Government scientists declared that BPA is not harmful to humans but failed to convince everyone, including other highly credentialed scientists.
These issues are sticking with us because they have been linked with what we feed our children and how we feed them. The pink slime controversy didn’t really blow up until it was announced in early March that the USDA planned to distribute 7 million pounds of the stuff to school cafeterias. BPA came to my attention in late 2006 and early 2007 when my wife was pregnant with our second child and we were shopping for baby bottles. We chose ones that were BPA-free, just to be on the safe side (we even bought some throwback, retro-ish glass bottles, which shockingly still exist). Shortly after our son was born, the BPA-free trend spread to other products (and we felt vindicated for buying those odd glass bottles).
In an age when childhood seems to be under such threat—when I won’t give my children the freedom to walk around our (safe) neighborhood unsupervised as I did without a second thought at their age, when we are constantly bombarded with stories of abused and neglected children—I find some comfort in the general social unease that has cropped up around what is served to children in school cafeterias.
This massive American culture, which is so bifurcated and pulled in so many different directions does care, at its core, about what its children eat. And I am even more heartened by the fact that public outcry has caused the beef industry and the federal government to adapt to public demands. In this instance, the public’s voice has been heard, changes have been made, and I am fairly hopeful that once people have become more aware of things like pink slime they might want to know more—rather than less—about how all their food is produced. They might, for instance, wonder what else happens to beef before it makes it to a grocery store case or exactly how orange juice has come to be available year-round when Florida’s orange groves don’t actually produce fruit all twelve months of the year.