Dinner; Mad cow

Yesterday’s update was cut a bit short because I went out to dinner, that is a pretty rare event around our house. I would like to say that it is because I am xenophobic or agoraphobic but the plain and simple truth is that I am just a cheap-ass. On second thought, I think I am gonna go with a combination of xenophobia and agoraphobia, and -hopefully- seem to be a bit less of a jack-ass.

Aside from the monetary concerns involved with eating out, the other issue that I have with the process is the servers. At a restaurant where you have never been, you may expect that there could be shoddy service, while at one that you frequent you would expect better service, or else why would you frequent it in the first place? The place that we normally eat out is local, and in a town as small as mine when I say local I mean that it is owned by two people, one is my barber and the other is his wife, who frequents the grocery store I work at. Think happy thoughts about the “Mayberry” type small town for a second, than toss that mess right out the window.

I am on a first name basis with the owners of the establishment (there is no need to include the name of the place, since there is only one in the entire world) as well as the guy who runs it on a day to day basis. Perhaps because I know the people so well, I find it very difficult to complain about anything, even when that something is absolutely terrible service that I know they would not tolerate from my store, and would not expect me to tolerate from their business. That is where it all gets just a bit tricky where I live.

The servers where I live get paid shit wages. I don’t mean like minimum wage, I mean like last I knew they actually make about three dollars an hour plus tips (some restaurants do pay base minimum wage plus tips, but they are few and far between). I am not sure if there is a law in the state of Arizona that makes this possible, or if the tips that they earn put them above the minimum wage to make it legal, however it works, it works. I am not sure about you, but if I was making three dollars an hour, I would bust my ass to make sure that I made every customer feel like he/she was royalty. Most people don’t even tip ten percent, even less fifteen percent, and if the service is bad there would more likely be a penny under the upside-down cup full of water, which I have only done a couple of times.

There is a server at this restaurant that is just amazing, knows myself and my wife on a first name basis, has our drinks on the table before we order them, always has an ashtray on the table quickly (yes, I know it is going to kill me and I should quit, but until I do, when I sit in the smoking section and do not have an ashtray it really irritates me). This server is probably the best that I have ever seen in any restaurant ever, and he, yes HE is not a young man, he has been at it for a while, and knows that the level of service will dictate the level of tip. What other job is there where your efficiency can either triple or half your hourly wage on a day to day basis? This guy always gets my highest honor, that being a twenty percent tip. Some of the other servers in the same restaurant get much less, like a dollar. On a twenty dollar dinner that would be a 5 percent tip. Servers here (elsewhere also?) are required to report 10 percent of the total from the people they served as tips received, even if they didn’t make that much. So providing bad service to everyone that you wait on could result in you actually losing money for the night. That’s some kind of incentive, in my mind.

What I was trying to get at, a few paragraphs back, is that it is hard to find good servers down here. When the base wage is so low (it may have changed since the last numbers I have, but the three dollars an hour I spoke of was when federal minimum wage was five twenty-five) the only people that really apply to that position are usually teen-agers, except, frequently there will be illegal immigrants here (there are a lot of farms nearby that rely on them for cheap labor) that use false social security numbers to get jobs. I am quite sure that large corporations do extensive background checks on the people that apply, your average family owned business here really just doesn’t. Even when I got my job down here I did not have a single photo ID, I did have a social security card, but who was to say that that was actually me? That is the same angle they are using, and quite effectively.

At any rate, back to the dinner story. I just somehow managed to spend way too long explaing that the server that was waiting on us initially last night didn’t speak english. About ten minutes into the experience we decided to switch tables, to be closer to the door the servers go through, so that, in theory, they might notice that there were a couple of people there without the requisite placemats, silverware, salsa, chips, drinks, the sort of stuff that this place is usually really quick to get to you. I spent the next ten or so minutes trying to level our table, it was a really wobbly one, by the time they came around with the chips I had nearly acieved true level (though I didn’t have a level to check, so that is based solely on the fact that you could no longer put a nickel on one side of the table, push down on the other side of the table and watch the nickel fly into the street). The woman tried to take our drink order, ‘Coors Light’ and ‘Hard Lemonade’, she did not understand about the hard lemonade. She understood the lemonade part, but not the ‘hard’ part. She went and got a bottle of lemonade and brought it over to see if that was what my wife had ordered, which it wasn’t, when my wife said, “No.” that might have been the only time she understood a single word that either of us had spoken so far. She took the lemonade away…And never returned…

We now had the chips and salsa, but no drinks, we nibbled on the chips and salsa anyway, sure that the drinks would eventually arrive. Big mistake. You must understand that the salsa in this place is considered ‘mild’, where I live fresh salsa that is called ‘mild’ makes Pace Picante Sauce that is ‘Hot’ taste like tomato sauce. So, we were both now breathing fire, no drinks to be found, and my wife said that she would just do with some ice water if we ever saw the server again. I was a bit irritated about the whole state myself, so I went to server central (inside the place, as we were on the patio) and happened to run into the guy who ran the place on a day to day basis. I simply asked him for an ice water and an ashtray, as we had been waiting at least twenty minutes at that point for any kind of actual service. He asked me if there was a problem, I didn’t want to say anything, but I did mention that they had taken the drink order and the girl didn’t seem to understand. It turns out that they no longer carried any type of ‘hard lemonade’, but had just gotten in some new type of hard raspberry drink. I left there with a glass of ice water and an ashtray, and about twenty seconds after I got back to our table our drinks arrived, carried by a different server.

I don’t think that we ever saw that original server the rest of the night, but the service certainly improved. It only took about ten minutes (maybe fifteen) to get our food, after taking longer than that to get, well, anyone to come to our table. There was a mistake with her food order, but it was an addition, and it was not charged to us, so that doesn’t really matter. The one thing that I really found strange about the whole ordeal was that the guy who runs the place day to day had said that “your drinks are on me”, since they never brought us a bill I really couldn’t say for sure, but what I can say is that my wife asked if they charged her for the item in her meal that she did not get, and they hadn’t, but they did charge here for a ‘hard lemonade’ which was the source of the entire problem in the first place. The two beers that I drank, at least, were free.

I am not sure if I have ever written on this site that I am a butcher, if not there you go. I am not the one who slaughters the animals or anything, I am the one that takes the 20-60 pound crude cuts of beef/pork and makes them into the yummy little steak/roast size portions that you see in the local grocery store. The majority of the meat that I deal with is boneless, as it is a far more efficient way to handle it in a small time operation like the one I work in. The pieces of meat, though, are also whole, like a whole striploin (muscles on the lower back of a cow/pig that are on the inside of the rib-cage), I don’t want to go into to much detail, just to say that I know where each piece of said cow/pig came from. Since the day when it was discovered that there was at least a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy found in the U.S., when anyone asks me which type of ground beef I prefer, I will always say that I prefer the one that I make daily from cow muscle, where the one that is called “Extra Lean Quality Ground Beef” is the leaner type of beef, it is also the type that may be mechanically stirpped from the carcass, and far more likely to have neural matter from the slain beast in it. That would make it, in my mind, far more likely to be able to cause the same disease in humans.

Looking around online today, I found this article which does not really put my heart at ease. Read the whole thing for context, I am going to take a few quotes from it.

The government last year conducted mad cow tests on tissues from 20,543 animals, virtually all of them cattle that could not stand or walk and had to be dragged to slaughter. After the case in December, the department initially doubled the number of animals to be tested this year to 40,000.

Well it is good to see that we have taken a firm stance on this. We want to make sure that animals that very obviously have serious problems are tested before they go to slaughter. Maybe they just tested the whole puddle of DNA they got by having to drag the animals to slaughter, since they could not walk on their own. I feel so much safer now.

The department announced plans Monday to test more than 221,000 animals over a 12- to 18-month period beginning in June.
Included would be 201,000 animals considered to be at high risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, because they show symptoms of nervous system disorders such as twitching.

Random tests also will be conducted on about 20,000 older animals sent to slaughter even though they appear healthy. Those tests are aimed at sampling cattle old enough to have eaten feed produced before 1997, when the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of cattle tissue in feed for other cattle.

So they have raised the bar, a bit, now testing animals that are at “high risk” of the disease, to me that means that the animals have already been privately tested and have come out with clean bills of health, otherwise the american beef industry would be ruined. I may have the wrong take on this, though, as they are not saying whether these tests will be at random. I bet the 20,000 old cattle that they are willing to test, who were sent to slaughter, were checked by the american beef farmers also.

“We want to see the U.S. government introduce the same system for beef safety, or at least an equivalent system, that we have in Japan. We test all slaughter cattle, regardless of age — not some,” he said.
Nearly 50 countries imposed bans on American beef after the first U.S. case was confirmed. Poland has lifted its ban and Mexico has relaxed its prohibitions, but major importers like Japan and South Korea have said they will not allow American beef back in until all 35 million cattle slaughtered in the United States each year are tested.

Wait, seriously, if we slaughter 35 million cattle in the U.S. every year, we could certainly do better than to check 200,000 of them to make sure they aren’t going to kill people, right, right…..

The department expects to announce soon a new system of rapid tests that will make the increased surveillance possible. The rapid tests could be done at laboratories around the nation, as well as the department’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, currently the only facility that can do testing.
The testing could find one case of BSE in 10 million animals, he said. It would establish whether the United States has more cases of mad cow.

DeHaven has said it’s not necessary to test every animal because the department’s targeted surveillance program system would pick up one case of BSE in 10 million animals.

Those are the type of numbers that I like to hear. So we are slaughtering 35 million animals a year, but only one in 10 million of them will kill you if you eat it, therefore we don’t need any further tests. WTF? So what comes next, they have to put labels on the sides of the containers that your beef comes in that say “Caution: eating beef has been linked to the immediate death of thousands of people, but we just don’t give a fuck.” Great advertising there, eh?

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