Meat Department

If anyone needs more reasons to avoid eating meat, other than how it’s contributing to water scarcity and climate change—I offer a glance through a distant window, a fading illumination on why you might consider avoiding the average grocery store meat department altogether.

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Dates are a big problem in the grocery realm. People who don’t work at grocery stores think they need to trash their food if they don’t eat it by the date stamped on it. Those of us who share the misery of this special cog in the food machine know that the dates aren’t very honest. One meat cutter referred to this constantly as the “gray zone”. Just because a steak turns brown, or green, or needs a tumor cut out of it doesn’t mean it’s inedible, which is why any meat-cutter who can manage a budget is going to cut the nastiest bits off a green rubber steak, soak it in a marinade, and put it back in the case.

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The first meat manager I worked for would rub the dates off the plastic coating around expired meat with rubbing alcohol. If a manager cared enough to inquire, the excuse was easy: manufacturer forgot to stamp a date, happens all the time.

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My last manager, we’ll call him Asshole, had a favorite saying, “Blood on my knife or shit on my dick.” The last time we spoke he had a wife who felt the need the enlarge her breasts, two daughters, and openly joked about raping the women who worked in the department. To Asshole, people were no different than meat and all meat meant to him was money.

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On a few occasions, we received live crawdads, but never with any means of containing them, so we just let them crawl around the sectional seafood case with the cooked and raw food.

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Aging meat is an art enjoyed by many connoisseurs across the world. We charged a modest $21 per pound for an “aged” rib eye steak. Asshole decided that walking another ten feet to store product in the proper cooler wasn’t worth his time and began keeping everything from marinated chicken to veggie kababs behind what was easily $4000 worth of rib eye for “quick access”. Every time Asshole opened the door a thousand microbes, bacteria, viruses, and mold, metals, cleaners, whatever happened to be in the air, rushed in to contaminate your overpriced steak.

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One morning casual conversation with the seafood manager got him on a tangent about sockeye salmon eyes being considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. And in the moment, he reached down and took hold of the salmon I was about to fillet, jabbed his thumb into its eye socket, and plopped the exploded bits of slimy darkness in his mouth and happily exclaimed, “Mmmm, salty!”

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Asshole ordered too many boxes of ground beef a few weeks before he transferred to a different level of Hell. Fresh ground beef is typically pre-ground at a different facility and stuffed in a plastic casing like a sausage. They’re boxed up and shipped to us to regrind at the store. The “gray zone” is a little less cloudy with ground beef because it’s terrible. It’s the only thing in the store that gets logged every time its ground, and if someone forgets to log it more than three times they’re typically fired. So what does one do when they order too much? Grind it anyway and enter a false date into the record. Could it hurt people? Hopefully, not. Is it legal? I really don’t think so. But, when you rip the labels off the boxes nobody can really prove you did anything wrong. Asshole’s assistant took over after he left and was fired a year later for trying to do the same thing.

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A clerk was laughing and chatting with a customer across the seafood counter. He concluded her order and said goodbye, and as she walked away he turned to all of us and said, “check this out” pointing down at his sizable erection.

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The secret ingredient in our holiday ham is corn syrup solids.

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I was rubbing my arms in the chill of the cooler one morning when the meat grinder screamed and gurgled to a halt. I unplugged the machine, opened the hopper lid and dug through all the portions of beef that can’t be fashioned into some over-simplified, streamlined, consumerist driven steak and found a nylon cutting glove.

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I’m not calling anyone a cannibal, but it’s not uncommon for someone to cut themselves and not realize it until they’ve bled all over a good deal of equipment—or cut through—and lose a small chunk of a finger. Very rare. But they’re not going to throw away 20 pork chops because a sliver of someone’s finger might have fallen into the batch.

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