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"Hey guys, so...uhh...is your meat all-natural, pasture-raised, and antibiotic and hormone-free!?"

By Joanna Shaw Flamm

Yesterday, the NY Post broke a story about meat quality at Union Market, which has locations in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. The claim? That the meat they sell as ‘all-natural/hormone-free’ is often none of the above. The Post got an anonymous tip from a butcher, who was able to provide invoices showing repeated orders from Union Market for his regular old hormoned-up, not-all-natural meat.

“‘Nearly every week, the store butchers call to order beef or pork, and it’s not natural, or antibiotic- or hormone-free. I would bet they are not telling the customers that,’ said the butcher, who asked that his name be withheld.”

The Post followed up with some sleuthing of their own:

“On recent visits to Union Market’s three stores — which coincided with meat shipments from the source — store butchers reiterated the ‘all natural’ mantra.”

They even shot video on the story, interviewing Brooklynites on the street outside Union Market’s Park Slope location:

Union Market co-owner Marko Lalic is furious, of course, and says both that the claims are untrue…and that they’re performing an internal investigation.

“‘Everything we buy is carefully and thoroughly checked before we bring the meat into our stores,’ Lalic said. On rare occasions when suppliers don’t have a particular product in stock, he said, the stores might make a substitution with another product that meets its standards.”

In a response on Facebook to the story, Union Market says:

Union Market keeps close watch over the requirements for all of the products in our meat department. From time to time, a particular cut of meat is not available to us within the guidelines of our meat program. Then and only then, we may make a substitution if we feel that having the particular cut available is essential to meet our customers’ needs. In this case, it is also our strict policy to inform the customers of this special case, both in proper signage at the point-of-sale and verbally through our butchers. The informed customer can then make a personal choice based on full disclosure of the facts…”

And so, the he-said-she-said goes on. Aside from the truth or falsehood of these particular allegations, this case brings up two big points:

1. It is really, really hard to know where your meat is actually coming from. Unless we raise it ourselves, we place that trust in all sorts of different places, most of which are hard to vet as an individual. We trust the farmer if we’re buying at a Greenmarket; we trust a butcher if we’re buying at a meat counter; we trust the packaging that says “grass-fed” if we buy at a grocery store. As consumers, we need to ask questions and think about where we’re putting our trust. If we’re not comfortable with what we’re hearing or seeing, we need to keep searching.

2. It is really, really hard to keep high quality, organic or all-natural meat in constant supply. There have been lots of reports about the lack of access small organic beef farmers have to slaughterhouses, so if it turns out that Union Market has had a hard time keeping high quality meat in stock, no one should be surprised. Maybe if more stores allowed themselves to simply be out of beef when there wasn’t enough, consumers would learn something about the way our food system works today. Of course, we demand the food we want whenever we want it, which puts pressure on even the best sources to give us what we want…or to pretend they are.

(h/t F’d in Park Slope)


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