Monday, 5 April 2010

Meat To Squeeze You

"Meat to Please ya!" used to be the little joke of the town butcher when I was a kid.  Hey, HE thought it was cool...  Back then, the butcher cut steaks and fillets off an animal, in front of you sometimes, and then weighed it up and charged you for it, wrapped it up in paper, and you took your 5lb roast home and it was damn good.  So okay, sometimes a butcher was caught by Weights & Measures for devaluing the pound, or for leveraging a few extra ounces worth out of customers by sneakily adding a thumb under part of the scales, that was up to you to be observant and call them on it.

And if caught, they'd always be generous, cos giving you a few extra steaks would be cheaper in the long run than a run-in with Dept  of W&M...  It was a pretty open type of give and take, no way was it honest, but at least it was something you could do something about.  Wouldn't it be good if that kind of mischievousness was all we had to deal with nowadays?

See, we've let the butcher out of our sight.  We walk into the meat section of the supermarket and it's all already on trays, packed and weighed and priced.  We have NO idea what's actually under the plastic.  The butchers sneak around behind the cover of their back rooms and for some reason when someone is unobserved they feel a lot easier about doing things that they might not try when in full view of their customers.

Now don't get me wrong - this is not a major attack on butchers, it's a major attack on ALL food producers and processors that have built themselves a hide-away of four walls and a lot of legal loopholes.  And that's pretty much all of them.  But in this case the concrete example I have is from a large chain of butchers, but not one associated with a major supermarket chain.  It's an example of how a smaller butcher starts to grow, and in order to ensure growth and success, does something that "everyone else is doing" but that everyone knows is not honest.  But what the hell, in order to get big you have to screw someone, and it may as well be the clueless customers.  (That's us, by the way.  We're the ones paying for the smaller butcher becoming a large corporation...)

In this case, it was a tray of sausages that I caught out.  And once you see this trick and how much money it can make once a company gets larger, you'll shit bricks.  I promise you.  

As far as my pocket goes, it's not much.  At $5 a kilo, breakfast sausages are cheap tucker in anyone's book - right?  But this particular tray of sausages (0.604Kg, around $3 something) ended up not being needed and got relegated to the freezer.  When I took the tray out of the freezer and opened it, this is what I ended up seeing:
Just Add Water...
As you can see, there's a fair bit of ice in that tray. Just for interest, I stuck the seven sausages (only three in the pic above as I took it after I'd discovered this little rort) and the tray and the ice on the scales and slid the balance weights.  Hmm, 600 grams.  I added the plastic shrink wrapping.  604 grams.  Exactly what I'd paid for, 0.604Kg.  Weighed just the tray and the plastic and the ice, a touch over 100g.  Just to double check, I weighed the sausages by themselves, and yep they came to a shade over 500 grams.  About 18% of what I'd paid was just packaging and water.  54c worth of shit, roughly.

Now the interesting thing is that when you work this out in quantities, you begin to see why the local butcher is less likely to do this, whereas larger companies will be all about those shaved percents.  See, if you can make an extra dollar on every kilo of sausages you sell, and you're a local butcher, you might make sell 20 kilos of sausages a week, and make $20 in ill-gotten gains. If you're that butcher that sells his product all over Australia at independent markets, you might sell 20,000 kilos of sausages in a week, and that's an extra $20,000 a week for nothing...  

That's why food manufacturers ship in palm oil at considerable cost to the environment both in clearing land for the palms, and pollution from tending and harvesting, then shipping. Because YOU'RE NOT WATCHING!  They can shave precious cents off the cost and sell to you for a few precious cents more for the "new and improved" formula...  On this and on the Zen Cookbook Blog I say it so often that it's become a thing I say in my sleep.  KEEP THE BASTARDS HONEST!  Take a bit of personal responsibility, take the trouble to check into everything, and make your feelings well known to your food outlets.  If they want to be dishonest, want to create environmental disasters, want to use cheaper ingredients that are known to have serious health issues, or want to keep the packaging the same size but put a few grams less in - then you damn well let them know it's not acceptable.  

If more of us do this, maybe some orang outan somewhere will thank us from its treetop...  

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