Part 4: The Local Butcher

Long-time butcher and owner of Long’s Meat Market, Mike Wooley practices Slow Food’s motto: “Good, Clean & Fair” food.

On a Friday afternoon Long’s Meat Market in South Eugene is abuzz. One woman peers into the glass case and orders a plastic tub full of liver. A customer asks for a special cut of pork and another orders a package of lamb. Men wearing heavy pants and boots rush around behind the counter cutting meats and wrapping them in paper packages.

The man in charge is veteran butcher Mike Wooley. Wooley followed in his father’s footsteps: Dick Wooley began his career at Long’s in 1959 and then passed the business on to his son. Long’s offers a large variety of meats including lamb, chicken and beef, but also some unusual meats like emu, which Wooley says tastes like beef, rabbit and rattlesnake.

Wooley has been involved with several of the Slow Food Eugene events, and although he is not an active member of the organization, he agrees with the Slow Food ideal that food should be good, clean and fair. He is also a strong believer in supporting local food: seventy percent of the fresh meat stocked at Long’s comes from local farms.

Wooley says he’s seem a major change in the industry over the past 30 years.

“In the late ’70’s, there was a movement away from the meat industry as a whole,” Wooley says.

“When I was growing up, people ate meat three meals a day.”

According to Wooley, Americans scaled back on eating meat because of a number of articles, published in the ’70’s, that said meat was harmful to one’s health. Many of the smaller butcher shops didn’t survive the paradigm shift, and large supermarkets were quick to fill the need.

But Long’s Meat Market has continued to prosper. Wooley attributes some of the shop’s success to Eugene residents’ interest in supporting local business and local food. According to the Long’s website, the company employs rigorous quality standards to ensure that all meat sold is “safe, healthy, nutritious and delicious.”

Factory farmed animals remains a hot button issue that has emerged as a main concern of the Slow Food movement. Wooley agrees that there have been many issues associated with factory farmed animals in the past decade, especially contaminated meat that spreads sickness.

Wooley says meat eaters have enjoyed low meat prices at the supermarket, but this comes at the expense of public health. Factory farms raise and slaughter such an enormous number of animals that they can keep the price of meat low.

Contaminated meat is often caused by fecal matter left on the cow before it is slaughtered and processed. Because of the sheer number of cows slaughtered in a day at large operations, a bit of fecal matter left on one cow could potentially contaminate hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat that are processed after that single cow. It is these mass contaminations that leads to nationwide meat recalls.

“Awareness about meat spikes and then goes down,” Wooley says. At the moment, awareness is at a high point because of the recent release of the movie Food Inc. (link), a documentary about the food industry and a wave of food related books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food (links), both by Michael Pollan, and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. The Slow Food groups has focused on creating awareness about meat as well.

Wooley says there are a lot of subtle differences in particular types of meat. For example, grain- fed beef has much more fat in it than grass-fed beef. Especially at large factory farms, cows are given a grain based diet, a high proportion of which is corn, because it fattens the animals for slaughter quicker than grass.

“Grain-fed beef has more liquifying fats in it,” Wooley says. While grain-fed beef tends to be very juicy because of the fat content, Wooley says grass-fed beef has a more natural taste.

“When you eat grass-fed beef, that’s what the meat actually tastes like,” he says.

Wooley says he’ll continue to support local ranchers and maintain the business partnerships he has created over the past decades. He enjoys the fact that many Eugene residents feel comfortable buying their meat products at Long’s.

“Knowing where meat comes from puts people at ease,” Wooley says. “People like local and people like humane.”

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