“I would like the BBQ Cheddar Burger, extra cheese and add bacon. No tomatoes, no lettuce, and no pickles. Just the burger, cheese, bacon, and onion ring,” said the woman. Her hair, eyes, and skin were monochromatic brown and vaguely masculine. “Oh, and make the fries extra-crispy. Is there dressing on the burger?”
“Thousand Island. Also BBQ sauce,” I said.
“Extra dressing on the side. For my fries.”
“How would you like that cooked?”
“Better get it well done. Is there pink slime in it?”
I paused. The question put me in an awkward spot. I didn’t know but figured the answer was “yes”. I knew I couldn’t give that answer without repercussions. “We’ll cook the pink slime out of it,” was all I could think of to say. Thank goodness she laughed and stopped pursuing the question.
I sought out the Bald Man. “I’m fielding questions about pink slime. Is it in our burgers?”
“If it is then we pay too much for our beef,” said the Bald Man in well-rehearsed fashion.
This didn’t answer my question and I sincerely doubted we paid top dollar for beef. I’ve watched quality go down and cost cutting go up in the years I’ve worked at The Pie Shoppe. Since the Bald Man had taken over as General Manager, we’ve been squeezing the nickel until the buffalo poops. The food coming out of the kitchen has been increasingly prefabricated. Earlier that day, I watched a cook dump individually frozen, pre-cooked, pre-chunked turkey breast pieces onto a sheet pan. They sounded like marbles as they clattered across the surface, glistening a strange shade of gray. Later they were served in the salad bar. Once upon a time, we freshly roasted turkey breast in-house for our dinners and salad bar. Now the turkey breast comes frozen, pre-roasted, and ready-to-eat in a vacuum-packed bag. So does our “Freshly Roasted Whole Turkey”, which we unwrap then rewrap for takeout Easter dinners. I’ve also watched them dump frozen “Tasty Yams” straight from the freezer bag into the foil containers customers take home.
I said, “I’m not sure pink slime is tied to pricing. I read it was in 70% of our beef supply.”
“That’s all the cheap grocery stores,” he said, his tone sharp and his body stiff.
“Foodservice too. It’s not just grocery stores.”
“They’d have to tell us if there was pink slime in our meat,” he insisted. I wasn’t sure who “they” were.
“What do you mean? Did you ask? I don’t think distributors volunteer the information. The FDA doesn’t require labeling or disclosure. It’s part of the hue and cry.”
His head jerked backwards and his eyes narrowed. The air felt crackly. These kinds of questions and direct conversation made me unpopular with the Bald Man. I knew if I kept it up, I’d likely see my schedule reduced by one shift next week, or find myself closing the restaurant on Monday nights. He punished for his annoyances where it hurt: my wallet. I needed to redirect the conversation, so I laughed a little too loudly and said, “Well, pink slime is only the tip of the iceberg. Why aren’t people asking about hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs?”
His tone was still sharp. “Pink slime isn’t even bad for you. It’s meat. It’s still part of the cow. If people wanna worry about something, they should worry about the chemicals in food.”
I turned and grabbed a couple of glasses and filled them with orange soda and root beer. The subject was dropped.