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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Hungry for the Holidays

This year, while shopping for Turkeys and Christmas gifts, wandering aimlessly down grocery isles and shopping malls, please understand, the advertisements about giving back and donating food would not have to play between songs we’ve all heard a thousand times if the companies who paid for the ads would simply pay us enough to eat and donate food that is normally thrown away.

Season of Plenty

It’s always this time of year when you hear shit like, “Give other families a happy, healthy holiday,” over the intercom at a grocery store. Followed by some spiel about donating your food–in my case–to fellow employees. We hear all this bullshit about making the holiday season special, and it just raises my stomach because if the companies that tell us to give food to each other would just pay us enough money to buy our own fucking food everyone would have a great holiday–but no. Why give another cog enough dignity to provide for their family when a worker’s poverty can be exploited to show the community how much the company cares?

Slaveway

I was at Safeway getting some food for breakfast, and when I got to the yogurt isle I saw two stereotypical upper-level management: tall, old, and ghost white, talking to a store-level management woman. The oldest says to her, “Facing is getting better, but it still needs a lot of work.”

For those of you who will never enjoy the sheer hell of working at a grocery store, facing is taking the product which is at the back of the shelf and pulling it forward so it looks like everything is well stocked. It’s really the only thing to do in a grocery store after everything’s been brought out from the back.

She tells him, “Sorry, it’s harder to get everything done on Friday.”

He then replies, “Well, why is that?”

I almost lost it. The guy running the store obviously hasn’t shopped in one in his entire life. It’s Friday–that’s enough reason–it’s the first of the three busiest grocery days. Combined with Safeway’s notorious business practices, it’s honestly surprising anything gets done–there’s a reason we call it Slaveway.

“Well, we’re down a food manager on Friday.” She pleas.

“What? Why is that?”

At that point I grabbed my food, shook my head, and walked away. Leave it to those in charge to not know a goddamn thing about what they’re in charge of.

To Modify or Not to Modify

 

October 18, 2014

I believe the future of our civilization rests on one word: genes. Though not always at the front of our minds, genes determine our health, make us who we are, and how we look. They’re in our food. Even the very clothing we wear isn’t possible without the proteins made from cotton’s DNA.

Today, modern science has accomplished what we’ve been doing for thousands of years. Genetic modification. Far from being a new science, using or modifying living things began with the ancient Babylonians and Sumerians who used yeast to brew beer, and bake bread. Selective breeding and farming, though not so obvious, are also methods of genetic modification. We now have the power to directly insert DNA from another plant, virus, or animal into a cell to achieve a desired effect like resisting pests, or thriving in bad soil. This practice has been commonplace in big agriculture since its legalization in 1995, and a mere four years later almost half of all corn, cotton and soy grown here have been modified (Britannica). The benefits don’t stop with making our crops more resistant to bugs—the miracle of genetics applies to us as well.

Imagine a future with minimal medical costs, a life in which the biggest concern is the common cold. Imagine never having to worry about a baby born with a condition that puts the family at a lifelong financial disadvantage. The future of medicine will be highly personal, tailored to a person’s genetic vulnerabilities, and the best part is it begins before birth. Many people look forward to becoming parents, and with that journey comes many unforeseen challenges. My wife was diagnosed with Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, when she was in the third grade. Three years later she went under the knife to have her spine fused and straightened with metal rods in a procedure that’s still in the ballpark of $120,000. With every passing day we glean more and more insight into the genes that cause scoliosis and other diseases with the goal of removing or disabling them before the child is born. It sounds like the stuff of fiction, but human genetic engineering is a reality, gaining headway the world over, but not without its equal share of controversy. People aside, we’re still debating whether or not our modified food is safe.

Despite GMO’s outstanding safety record, special interest groups are still persistent in trying to ban them, or discourage their use through laws and labeling. On the ballot for this upcoming mid-term election is a measure which would require labeling of all genetically engineered food in Oregon. It’s an attempt to move people to eat so-called safe food, but according to Scientific American’s David Freedman:

The human race has been selectively breeding crops, thus altering plants’ genomes, for millennia. Ordinary wheat has long been strictly a human-engineered plant; it could not exist outside of farms, because its seeds do not scatter. For some 60 years scientists have been using “mutagenic” techniques to scramble the DNA of plants with radiation and chemicals, creating strains of wheat, rice, peanuts and pears that have become agricultural mainstays. The practice has inspired little objection from scientists or the public and has caused no known health problems.

Granted, that notion isn’t universal among scientists. Professor of Biological Studies David Schubert is among many who argue that there is not only no consensus of safety, but that GMOs are not as safe, practical, or cost-effective as others claim.

Schubert is an advocate of GMO labeling, and claims it’s vital that the public is aware of the entire truth behind the science, not just what the corporations behind their production want you to know. Such as the super-weed epidemic, insects that are much harder to kill and are no longer affected by the crops GM resistance causing a “massive increase” in the amounts of herbicide used. Schubert’s chief concern is the potential of cancer from the combination of GM crops and herbicide use. He points to an AP article on the drastic rise in cancer rates in Argentina after they began cultivating new crops, and another study done on pigs whose consumption of GM corn caused inflammation in their stomachs. He believes the public is taking a step in the right direction with labeling.

It’s hard to imagine a world free of disease when the science which has the potential to cure cancer could very well be giving us all cancer. There’s a myriad of prospects for gene therapy, but they’re a long way off if the science fails our most basic needs—a human is a thousand-fold more complicated than a stalk of corn. Freedman is quick to point out: “But as medical researchers know, nothing can really be ‘proved safe.’ One can only fail to turn up significant risk after trying hard to find it—as is the case with GM crops.” But sometimes it takes a very long time to find the risk, not twenty years after it was legalized and here we are in the midst of a raging conflict.

Unfortunately, we have the tendency to dive into things headfirst, only to pay for the consequences later. Our food chain, however, might not be so lenient about our willingness to experiment, and while some may see the current debate as debilitating, arguing is what will push us forward—weighing the data, ideas, ethics. In the years ahead, there will be more at stake than our food. With the power to manipulate the genes of a person come the question: how far is too far? How tall should we make a person, how white, black, intelligent? There is much to discuss as a society, but people are already deciding what gender to make their children. And while scientists are trying to measure the actual effect of these technologies on nature the ideology of others is distorting the truth.

Perhaps the most gripping story about GMOs isn’t one on herbicides or cancers, but mass suicides. Many people are familiar with the almost 300,000 deaths in India regarding their Bt cotton crop failure. Not so many know that those suicides had more to do with greedy money lenders than the cotton. The original story can be traced back to the well-known environmentalist Vandana Shiva who told the public that farmers were killing themselves because of Monsanto. Her story caught on and gleaned a lot of media coverage, but political economist Anoop Sadanandan’s research shows that many of deaths took place in states which didn’t grow cotton at all, and found that many states where cotton was grown didn’t have the same suicide rates. Instead, Sadanandan blames India’s banking reform. With growing competition many banks stopped loaning to farmers, viewing it as an unreliable investment, which forced many to turn to high interest lenders. Once the crops failed the farmers found themselves in massive amounts of debt, and seeing no way out, took their lives (Strauss).

With so much at stake, it behooves us to have a fair conversation about GMOs, without calling to emotion, which always leads to poor decisions. Bio-engineering offers the world so much potential, but distorting the facts coupled with our propensity to rush in will turn it into Pandora’s Box. I’m not against genetic modification, and I look forward to see it save countless lives whether it’s growing better food or stopping a future illness, but everyone can agree safety is essential. GMO labeling is good step in that direction. People are going to be surprised at the amount of GM food they’ve eaten, but ultimately we have a right to know what we’re eating, safe or not.

Works Cited

“Genetically modified organism (GMO)”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2014
<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/897705/genetically-modified-organism-GMO>.

Freedman, David. “The Truth About Genetically Modified Food.” scientificamerican.com. Scientific American. 20 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2014

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-truth-about-genetically-modified-food/?page=2

Schubert, David. “Why we need GMO labels.” cnn.com. CNN. 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/03/opinion/schubert-gmo-labeling/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

Strauss, Mark. “The GMO Mass Suicides Are a Myth.” io9.com. Io9. 21 April 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2014

http://io9.com/the-gmo-mass-suicides-are-a-myth-1565342067

GMO

There’s a measure on the Oregon ballot that if made into law requires labeling of all GMO products. I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass considering these are the same voters that stuck down Fluoride. And I can’t wait to watch Portland’s jaw drop when everyone finds out 95% of what they’ve eaten for the past decade is genetically modified.

The Lesson I Remember from Fifth Grade

When I was in elementary school a teacher asked me to do something, and I replied with “okie dokie” and she told me not talk like “white trash”, and now that I’m older thinking back on it, I find it odd considering she was Japanese and extremely proud of her heritage. It was in her class that I saw my first anime, and the first time I ate octopus. That teacher treated me like shit for some reason. Yet she inspired a lasting love of Japanese culture, which lasted beyond my cooking obsession, and I still indulge in a manga or anime series when the mood strikes.

Republican Kool-Aid

I was reading the io9 article “The Chinese Tea Study that the Tea Party Wants to Suppress” by Mark Strauss on the Tea Party closing their eyes and plugging their ears to the effects climate change is having on tea plants. It’s a great reminder that plants adapt very quickly to their changing environments and those chemical changes aren’t always good for us. It’s also a sad reminder that America’s Right has only one answer for issues that affect us: cut the funding. But what caught my eye out of the out-pour of support Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) received for the cut, was a comment which made my blood boil, “We should also be decreasing foreign aid to countries whose citizens enter our country illegally in order to improve their lot.”

There are people out there who agree with that quote, and if you do then you’re a crazy idiot. I first had an in-depth view of this concept upon reading Johnson C. Montgomery’s “An Island of Plenty“. Montgomery foresees a hopeless future of starvation for Americans if we can’t get the world population under control. His solution is simple: we should horde everything, and limit the number of children we have. He hoped to champion his ideas to the middle-class to build momentum, so he could insist the rest of America pay attention to his ludicrous views. The core theme in this philosophy is Isolationism–cut everyone off and just take care of ourselves. Not only is that laughable, it’s impossible.

Despite the persistent delusion of an over-sensationalized 1950s, apple pie, picket fence America–quick reminder–it’s 2014, and we live on a global level. Cutting foreign aid won’t just cut off food and supplies for parents and children, it hurts our economy, and international relationships. There’s nothing wrong with moving to a different country to make a better life for yourself. If you happened to be starving or faced with death on a daily basis you’d switch locations too.

There’s a reason people are getting in illegally, our immigration laws need reform. The government has made it too expensive, drawn out, and difficult to gain citizenship. Most likely because there are simply too many people who think cutting aid will decrease illegal immigration. Not only is that one of dumbest things I’ve read, it’s the exact opposite of the truth–it will increase it.

The republican kool-aid is a toxic mix of ignorance and budget cuts, every time they decide to pull funding it inevitably hurts all of us, from citizens to those who simply don’t want their heads lopped off by a drug cartel. The arguments to cut foreign aid are riddled with xenophobia, or blatant racism, and the only solutions these crazy people can come up with are to starve everyone off, and keep it all for themselves. We’re are doing our country an enormous disservice by letting these people hold any kind of office.

Just to be clear, the quote wasn’t Salmon’s, just a supporter’s, but the notion can’t be too far removed from a representative who’s willing to cut funding from a study that would shed light on how the nutritional levels of our crops are going to change and adapt. If we can figure out how our food is gong to change we can plan for it, so as to avoid malnutrition. If Salmon’s too ignorant to understand that then I don’t expect him to grasp globalization or foreign aid.

5 Tips to Surviving Climate Change:

  • First things first, ditch your oceanfront property, or have it rebuilt a few miles back from the water so the ocean’s inevitable rise won’t destroy it.
  • Get out of Florida while you still can.
  • Keep a kid-pool and winter coat on hand at all times, because you never know what extreme weather patterns will do.
  • Start saving now because with a rising ocean, and crops burning across the world, money’s going to be tight! Expect high food prices, and high taxes. At least we’re all guaranteed future jobs in construction.
  • Get plenty of Polar Bear pictures, they’ll be gone by the end of the century, along with a many others due to the strict interconnectedness of our ecological system.