In the wake of last week’s social media firestorm generated by someone who posted photos of meat company workers using shopping carts to transfer pork ribs and legs into a San Jose, Calif, supermarket, another “raw meat” incident has been publicized on Facebook.
This time, it’s an amateur video showing employees of another California meat company manually hauling pig carcasses into a Chinatown grocery in San Francisco.
Only this time, there’s been some serious pushback to the predictable “horror” expressed by people posting online reactions to the video clip.
In an opinion piece published by the Modesto Bee, the newspaper noted that, “Some of the ick factor generated from coverage of two local meat companies delivering pig carcasses to grocery stores may be because some of us don’t know where our food comes from.”
Some of us? Try “most of us.”
As the writer noted, “When we think meat, we think chicken thighs, pork roasts or hamburger in plastic packages that we buy at the store. Not a pig carcass.”
Amen to that, and for an even more pertinent example of that thought process, consider seafood. The fruit of the sea hardly ever gets criticized as a food source, and the proponents of such “healthier-for-you” fare rarely come in for condemnation, save for an occasional eco-jab at our globally depleted fisheries.
But when was the last time any ordinary consumer cleaned and gutted a bunch of fish? Or complained about a restaurant boasting that they source “whole, fresh fish” hauled off some picturesque (so they say) fishing boat just minutes prior to its patrons chowing down on a salmon fillet or a halibut steak?
Do we have a problem with eating a fish that hasn’t been decapitated, eviscerated, skinned, portioned and packaged before we consider eating it? What’s the difference, other than the generally less-stringent levels of sanitation on a fishing trawler versus a meatpacking plant, between a fish carcass and a pig carcass?
Perception. That’s all.
Meat vs. Seafood
In its story, the newspaper quoted Caleb Sehnert, meat lab manager at the University of California at Davis, who made a pertinent observation.
“People are so far removed from where their meat comes from,” Sehnert said. “You don’t take it from the farm and it automatically appears in a Styrofoam tray. There is a lot of work involved.”
And that work is done not only to portion and package our food, whether pork or pollock, but to add the convenience factor: Cleaning fish or butchering pigs isn’t part of most people’s meal prep routine.
That’s not to say the Chinatown incident, in which workers left the rear door of their reefer truck open while hauling the carcasses — which were wrapped in butcher paper, by the way — were following best practices.
In a statement, the supplier, Modesto, Calif.-based Yosemite Meat Co., said that they followed USDA regulations, while acknowledging that although the truck had been cleaned and sanitized and the workers were wearing sanitary smocks and gloves as they removed the carcasses, they should have been wearing hard hats and hairnets.
And the truck doors should have been closed between each trip into the grocery store.
The statement offered an apology and promised that the company would be retraining its employees on proper procedures for future deliveries of carcass meat.
I guess it’s standard practice these days to apologize if anyone was offended by any incident that occurs, no matter what the situation.
Yet Sehnert concluded his comments with an entirely relevant remark.
He said that with the growing farm-to-fork movement, and its emphasis on where our food comes from, grocery stores and vendors that butcher an entire carcass shouldn’t be criticized.
“Not many stores get whole carcasses [any more],” he said. “Breaking down a whole carcass is a dying art that takes a lot of skill.”
Yet if the enlightened citizens who recoil at the sight (or thought) of seeing an animal carcass are really serious about eating locally, as they always claim, then they need to realize that meat and poultry aren’t shipped across the country in carcass form any more.
That ended about the same time as black-and-white TV.
If the eco-activists and locavores who rail at industrial farming believe in their cause, then someone carrying a pig carcass ought to be celebrated, not chastised.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.