The beef additive known as pink slime is off the menu at all Vineyard public schools.
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said this week that as of two weeks ago all the meat in question has been put aside. “We are not using it in any student lunches across the Island, anywhere,” he said.
In the past month the pink slime controversy has turned the stomachs of meat consumers nationwide as it was revealed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for public school lunch subsidies, approved the product for use in schools. Various grass roots groups have since started a swarm of online petitions calling for the federal agency to outlaw the product.
The official term for pink slime is lean, finely textured beef. The low-cost additive used in ground beef is made from scraps or discarded odd cuts of meat and treated with ammonia to remove bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. The product is used as filler and considered safe to eat.
The term pink slime was coined by a USDA microbiologist in 2002.
Mr. Weiss said the public outcry over the meat “gave us no choice” but to remove it from the lunch programs. “We weren’t going to fool with this,” he added.
Along with peanut butter, bread, pasta and canned vegetables, Vineyard schools, like other public schools across the nation, receive the meat product as part of their school lunch commodities free of charge and only pay for shipping costs. Some schools didn’t wait for Mr. Weiss’s directive. Edgartown School cafeteria director Gina deBettencourt said she threw away 200 pounds of the ground meat last month. The school is now buying their meat from the Edgartown Stop & Shop and Island Food Products, Ms. deBettencourt said, both of which have given her written statements that the products sold to the school contain no pink slime.
Ms. deBettencourt said she had an uneasy reaction when she first learned about the meat additive, which has been approved for use for 20 years. “It just grossed me out,” she said. “When you eat a hamburger you’re expecting to eat ground beef. “We weren’t even notified of the pink slime — they’ve been doing it for 20 years and we were never notified of it, never told it was in there. We’re trying to go as natural as we can. We decided as a school, we shouldn’t be serving this if it goes against everything we’re working toward.”
Ms. deBettencourt said her decision was backed by school principal John Stevens.
Oak Bluffs School cafeteria director Leah Miranda had a similar reaction, and said the most disturbing part was not knowing about it.
“It’s the fact that we’ve been eating it all along. Yes it’s probably safe, but is it desirable? No,” she said. “I’m certainly not buying any of it for my family and I don’t think we should be giving it to the kids at school. Here we are doing as Island grown as possible and trying to send out a positive message to our children about knowing where your food comes from.”
Ms. Miranda said she plans to use more ground chicken and turkey in place of beef.
Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School food services director Leslie Floyd said she put aside 560 pounds of questionable meat that otherwise would have been served at the high school and the West Tisbury School. She called the pink slime controversy the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing where your food comes from. The high school is outsourcing new beef products from U.S. Foods and received its first delivery this week. Ms. Floyd said she, too, has turned to using other meat, such as ground turkey.
Meanwhile, Vineyard schools will get a small boost in the form of Island-raised meat and dairy products from the Island Grown Schools program, which recently received a $12,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture to bring more protein into school cafeterias.
Island supermarkets that did carry pink slime meat no longer do so. Stop and Shop spokesman Susie Robinson said this week that beef containing the product is off the shelves in both Vineyard stores.
Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier said his market grinds its own hamburger daily. “No fillers, no nonsense, no additives” have ever been in the building since the market opened in 1917, he said. “All that you’re wrestling with is the proportion of meat to fat, and how much round versus how much shoulder to get the right mix for hamburger,” Mr. Bernier said. “That’s as far as it goes.”
Reliable Market owner Bob Pacheco takes the same approach.
“We use whole muscle cuts — there’s no additives and definitely no pink slime,” he said. “It’s definitely done the old-fashioned way. Sometimes there’s something to be said for the old-fashioned way.”