T here are advantages to growing up around a dairy farm. I didn't live on one, but my grandparents owned one, so I spent lots of time there when I was a kid.
One of the advantages is you develop a good understanding of where the food we all eat comes from. You know, milk comes from cows. Eggs come from chickens. Cheese and butter come from the milk. All the vegetables come from seeds planted by a farmer.
And the meat? Well, you learn where that comes from, too.
Back in the day -- I suspect it hasn't changed much today, either -- it was common, at least on my grandparents' farm, to butcher once a year in October or November, when the cooler weather kicked in.
Usually it was one or two steers and three or four hogs. Chickens were butchered as you needed them throughout the year.
And on butchering day, family, friends and neighbors all congregated on the farm to help out. There was work to be done, and everyone had their job or jobs to do.
It was necessary work if you lived on a farm, especially 50 years ago, but it wasn't necessarily pretty work.
Anyway, once I was old enough -- say around 8 years of age -- I was allowed to participate in the process. I never killed an animal, nor did I do any of the actual butchering, but I did help make pon haus (in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it's the same as scrapple), liverwurst, sausage, mush, souse (pig's feet jelly) and pudding. I helped make lard, as well.
I ate all that stuff, too, though I rarely do so today. I understand the "everything from the oink to the tail" approach to farm life. It makes sense to me to utilize as much of an animal as possible if you're going to butcher it.
So I am definitely not squeamish about eating meat. I am a little less enthusiastic about eating the byproducts of the butchering process -- hot dogs, for example, and some sausage.
I will eat pon haus and puddin', but I certainly don't crave it. If you invited me over to your house for a meal and that's what you set on the table, I'd eat it to avoid being inhospitable. The same cannot be said for organ meat, however.
Still, I have to admit I don't think about it (the process) all that much, either. If I had to kill an animal and butcher it to survive, I'd do it. But I'd just as soon leave that to the professional.
Which brings us to "pink slime." Add the word "slime" to just about any word having to do with food -- vegetable slime, milk slime, apple slime, cheese slime, grape slime, you get the idea -- and it's going to sound nasty.
Someone with a weak stomach is going to avoid "pink slime" or anything slime at all costs.
But let me tell you something, I've eaten (and so have you, all of you, unless you're a vegetarian or a vegan) pounds -- maybe hundreds of pounds -- of pink slime over the years as filler in the hamburger we buy in the grocery store.
We might never have heard it called "pink slime" until very recently, but that's what it was. And it's always been used, the same as a similar concoction was used in the production of sausage or hot dogs.
I've seen hot dogs and sausage made, up close and personal. I've never seen "pink slime" made, but I think I have a pretty good idea about it -- it was, I'm thinking, the same stuff we used to make at the farm butchering that ended up in pon haus and puddin'. That is the scrap meat that couldn't be used for anything else, but was too good to throw away. Remember, nothing was wasted on the farm.
So they trimmed off a little of the fat, ground it up and used it in pon haus and puddin' and beef hot dogs, the same as they used scrap pork in pork hot dogs and sausage.
Today, they grind up those beef scraps and use it in hamburger. The meat is heated and all the fat is spun out of it before it's added to hamburger. It actually has less fat content than many cuts of beef.
I don't have a problem with that. I've eaten plenty of it, I'm sure, and it hasn't killed me yet.
As for knowing or not knowing what we're getting when we bite into a juicy hamburger, I can answer that for you in three words: You're getting beef. Some of it might be filler beef, but it's still beef.
If you've ever given a thought to where your hamburger was coming from to begin with, you'd know that hamburger isn't made by grinding up the most expensive choice cuts of steak, to the exclusion of everything else. It's pretty much what's left after all the steaks, roasts, loin and ribs have been removed. What remains is ground up for hamburger. It's always been that way.
If that doesn't go down well with you, then maybe you should consider changing your diet.
The only thing about the "pink slime" debate that doesn't sit well with me is the use of ammonia to kill bacteria. Back on the family farm, we didn't have to do that. I'd prefer something other than ammonia be used, but in the interest of healthy dining I'd rather not get sick, either, from eating a burger.
So here's the thing -- if it bothers you to eat sausage and hot dogs, then it's reasonable that you might not want to eat hamburger for the same reasons.
But if sausage and hot dogs don't bother you, then the pink slime burgers shouldn't bother you, either. Same process, more or less.
I think what we need to do is rename the "pink slime" to something more palatable -- "pink bloom" for example, or "candied meat."
Or we could just call it what it really is -- finely textured beef.
And save our angst for something really important.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.