Pink Slime, “Obamacare,” and the Price of Gas (Oh, My!)

Rock Island, IL

It is another moment of high controversy: pink slime, the constitutionality of national (mistakenly called “universal”) health care, and soaring gas prices.

What would it cost a man to put a message in a bottle stating that these are the issues by which the twenty-third century will judge us?

Not much. Nothing that he’ll ever know about—unless the scientists and sugar-daddies obsessed with the technology of anti-aging succeed in defying the limit that so absorbs their fantasies. (They won’t.)

Maybe these three issues won’t achieve such distinction in the eyes of future anthropologists and historians. Maybe, as Bill Kauffman has said, that witless sitcom, Friends, will be all that the future needs to condemn us by. But taken together (and, being creatures of time, we sort of have to take them together) pink slime, national health care, and soaring gas prices are not uninteresting—not as coeval media obsessions.

They concern what we eat, how we take care of ourselves after we’ve eaten what we shouldn’t have eaten, and how we get from A to B, which, apparently, we will do at all costs—including $105 a barrel and more.

The first of these, pink slime, is (in case you missed it) a beef “industry” byproduct made of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily eat had it not been converted into something unrecognizable. Depending on whom you listen to, it’s in something like seventy per cent of all the ground beef sold in the U.S. and constitutes as much as twenty-five per cent of the beef “product.”

Now I’m not squeamish when it comes to converting other animals into human body mass, and I’ll say in pink slime’s defense that it never had a say in what it would be called. And so it’s only fair to note that, being called “slime,” pink slime has been at something of a disadvantage from the start. Had it been named “gold bovinator” it might have fared better, especially if it could be said to cure E.D.

But pink slime by any other name would smell as unsweet, were not it pink slime called, and I have to say I’m against it. Here at Casa Carnivore we eat our fair share of burgers, but I know by name the beasts I eat, and I know their packer too. On the grill pink is as close to brown as the beef I eat gets, but it ain’t pink on account of no slime, I can tell you. Bad ground beef has a distinct flavor, and it’s bad. When you eat it, you sort of wish you were a cat so you could lick you anus to clear your palate.

The second of these issues by which we might or might not be judged in the twenty-third century, national health care, is a bit more flummoxing. Whether it’s a good thing that our current supreme court gets to determine “Obamacare’s” constitutionality is a matter I leave up to the constutionalitators. I’m a poor country English teacher whose mind and sullied flesh are too too given to country matters.

But two uncountry matters seem to me worth noting. One is this: what I mostly hear, and mostly from the right, is that a national health care system will mean too much waiting in line—like in Canada. (This is from people who not only have never been treated in Canada; they’ve never even been to Canada.) “If I need to see my doctor because I’ve got tennis elbow,” I hear said, “under Obamacare I’ll have to wait six months.” (Here “Obamacare” is said with a sneer.)

Of this first matter, two points are worth noting. One is that tennis, like most things invented by the French, is idiotic. You hit a ball back and forth. It’s like an argument waged by two people who do not agree to a common language and who keep score by inscrutable terms. If you have tennis elbow, you deserve it.

The other point worth noting is that the objection, raised as it usually is by the right, comes from God-fearing, family-values folk. And on their lips it sounds like this: “If I have to wait six months to have my tennis elbow treated just so poor children can have any health insurance at all, then to hell with the poor children.”

This is a sentiment I am somewhat uncomfortable with, although it is possible I have misread the Gospels. But I’ll leave that to better exegetes and move on to the second matter.

National health care does seem to work in some countries. I have had extended conversations with a Swede, for example, who, having had a hip replaced in his native land, keeps telling me that, when it comes to such issues as health care, the difference between Swedes and Americans is that Swedes trust their government.

I have no doubt this is true. My question to him is always the same: “But don’t you think it’s a matter of scale?”

And he concedes the point. Scandinavians can do things that we probably can’t because, as the economists (who are otherwise untrustworthy) say, “it won’t scale.”

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