I am a strong believer in supporting local small business, and for the past 29 years, I have been a regular customer at our food shops in Eltham. There were three butchers here when we first moved into this suburb, so I tried them all, and eventually stayed with one of them for about ten years, until the quality of their meats was so poor I decided it was time to move on. The shop I went to next had an excellent reputation among the locals; some of my friends have been shopping there for years, raving about the fresh fish selection as well as the meat. I started buying my weekly meat supply there about three years ago, and until recent months, had nothing to complain about. But lately...I spend on average $55 a week, which I guess isn't much compared to what somebody with four kids might spend. Still, last year it added up to about $2500. Surely that makes me a good customer?
About two months ago, I requested a pumped leg of mutton. The younger of the two butchers didn't know what I was talking about, but the older man did, and said he would see to it. (If you don't know, it is liked Corned Beef, but they use lamb instead of beef. It used to be mutton when I was a kid in the 50's, but the butcher said mutton isn't used at all now for human consumption). I collected my pumped leg the following week and was very happy with it. About a month later, I ordered another one. The next week I arrived to pick it up, but they'd forgotten to do it. I was philosophical about it, these things happen. The following week, they'd forgotten again. I wasn't so easy on them this time. "Don't you have an order book where you write things down?" "Yes". "Well? Wasn't mine written in?" "No".
I finally got it last week. When I cooked it last night, it was almost unedible. The corning process had only penetrated about an inch into the meat, instead of the whole leg, so we got plain boiled lamb for most of our dinner - utterly flavorless. Just as well we had no guests for dinner - I would have been mortified.
But this wasn't the only thing that they'd done badly by me in this shop. Two weeks ago, I bought 400g of steak, pre-sliced for stirfrying. The woman who served me asked if I wanted it tenderised and I said yes, so she went off out the back and returned with the meat all wrapped up. When I got it out of the wrapping that night to cook it, I smelt something strange, like perfume. After checking the other meat I'd bought and finding nothing wrong, I decided it must have been the plastic bag it was in, and went ahead and cooked the meat. Ken took one bite and refused to eat the rest, saying it tasted like perfume. I ate two or three pieces and couldn't bring myself to eat any more, and of course it had tainted everything, so the whole lot - vegies and all - had to go in the garbage. We ended up with baked beans on toast.
I salvaged a small section of the wasted meal and took it to the butcher the next day. He listened to my story, had a sniff of the meat and the plastic bag it had been packed in, and told me to wait. He went outside, and brought back a bottle of pink liquid. "Does it smell like that?" he asked, and I sniffed. "Yes, that's it". He laughed and said, "Well, at least you know we are clean - that's the disinfectant we use - ha ha!" I'm afraid I didn't see the funny side of it at all, and told him I didn't pay $12 to eat meat tasting like disinfectant. He didn't offer a refund, but said he would make good on my next order. On Friday, after adding up my weekly order to $67, I reminded him of the meat I'd had to throw out. "Oh well, make it $60", he said. I felt like saying "Thanks for nothing, arsehole", but I didn't. I just handed over the $60 and said to myself it was the last time I would be going there.
But then we copped the lamb last night. So I will be going back - but not to shop. I'll be taking the remains of the leg of lamb to show them, and I will be telling them why I won't be going back there. I don't like buying meat at the big supermarkets, but it looks like I am being forced to do just that now. What do you think - am I being a bit tough on this shop?