Slim Jim: Almost Completely Food Free!

Photo by Tim Morris, Wired MagazinePhoto by Tim Morris, Wired MagazineSeptember's Wired Magazine features one of the scariest technology articles I've ever read. It's not a look at how our government plans to train digital video cameras on our every move. It's not a piece on robots that are smarter than us, or small kids who can see into the future. It's not about aliens or even Silicon Valley VCs. The article I'm referring to, written, by Patrick di Justo, is much scarier than any of those things. It's called:

"What Inside a Slim Jim?"

If you've spent any time thinking about food lately, you won't be surprised to know that a Slim Jim is almost entirely food free. Still, the list of things that are inside a Slim Jim is a little bit shocking. You'll have to read the article for the whole scoop, but here's a small sample:

It's real meat, all right. But it ain't Kobe. The US Department of Agriculture categorizes beef into eight grades of quality. The bottom three—utility, cutter, and canner—are typically used in processed foods and come from older steers with partially ossified vertebrae, tougher tissue, and generally less reason to live. ConAgra wasn't exactly forthcoming on what's inside Slim Jim.

Mechanically separated chicken
Did you imagine a conveyor belt carrying live chickens into a giant machine, set to the classic cartoon theme "Powerhouse"? You're right! Well, maybe not about the music. Poultry scraps are pressed mechanically through a sieve that extrudes the meat as a bright pink paste and leaves the bones behind (most of the time).

Corn and wheat proteins
Slim Jim is made by ConAgra, and if there are two things ConAgra has a lot of, it's corn and wheat.

Sodium nitrite
Cosmetically, this is added to sausage because it combines with myoglobin in animal muscle to keep it from turning gray. Antibiotically, it inhibits botulism. Toxicologically, 6 grams of the stuff—roughly the equivalent of 1,400 Slim Jims—can kill you. So go easy there, champ.

Um, did you get that? I'm no fan of the Slim Jim, but as a long time beef jerky eater, this article makes me queasy. Nevermind the Slim Jim itself - the scariest part of the article is how it reflects our country's view of food: if it won't kill you immediately, it's considered "safe."

Of course, a quick read of the first chapter of Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" will tell you that the Slim Jims actually have a lot in common with Twinkies. At the core of it, they're just different shapes of corn, right?