Commentary: Pumped full of drugs

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News flash: Police in the western Washington town of Poulsbo have arrested 33-year-old man, who they say walked into a local Walmart store there shortly after midnight last Friday and stabbed a number of chub packs of fresh sausage with a syringe.

He then fell asleep elsewhere in the store and walked out to the parking lot several hours later.

Talk about a nice night’s work.

For those who might be unfamiliar, Poulsbo is a small town of about 10,000 located on the western shores of Puget Sound, a century-old community with a long history as a destination for immigrants from Norway and Finland—to the extent that until the 1940s, Norwegian was maintained as the town’s official language. To this day, the downtown features a Scandinavian theme in its shops and restaurants.

Yet thank god there’s a Walmart store in the area, because otherwise this tale just wouldn’t sound the same.

Here’s the story: Shortly after 6 am on Oct. 25, a store employee was alerted by a customer that a hypodermic syringe had been stabbed into a package of Jimmy Dean sausage. According to the website of KOMO News, a local Seattle-area ABC-TV affiliate, while removing the meat, “The employee noted another tube with hole pokes, and immediately alerted the manager on duty, who dialed 911.”

Who says Wal-Mart employees aren’t highly trained professionals?

“Somebody had pushed a syringe into the tube at an angle, and it poked out the other side,” Poulsbo Police Officer Nick Hoke told KOMO News. “The actual metal needle tip was not attached to the syringe, though.”

An arrest was later made of 33-year-old Daniel Oaks Thieman, who was charged with an as-yet unspecified crime. Surveillance video footage showed Thieman walking into the store around 12:48 am, stabbing the “meat tubes,” as the news story described the packages, and then falling asleep at the Subway outlet at the front of the store. According to police, the man then exited the store and was seen driving off with a woman companion in a black Ford Focus. Police later found several syringes in the parking lot where the car had been parked.

Police removed the syringe from the package but were unable to determine whether the needle has been used, since the inside of the syringe appeared “dry and uncontaminated”—except for the business end, which apparently had “some sausage meat jammed into it,” according to the story.

Officer Hoke reportedly opened other packages to search for the metal needle tip, but was unable to locate it.

As the story noted, store employees were “concerned that the needle’s tip could have been broken off in other tubes,” so the entire meat department section was sealed off with plastic sheeting to prevent customers from buying any products, according to the police report.

Good thing, because a subsequent inspection revealed that “several other meat packages also had holes punched in the packages,” according to Hoke. Altogether, about $20,000 worth of product was removed and discarded, and the area was disinfected by employees.

I’ll refrain from any jokes about the case never having been so thoroughly cleaned, and instead ask the obvious question: What would a person’s motivation be to jam a needle into a package of sausage?

For someone like Mr. Thieman, it would be tough to argue that he was trying to poison a bunch of shoppers—the apparent motive of most other product saboteurs—since the needle, had it been full, would likely have contained the same drug he was apparently ingesting on a daily basis.

Simple sabotage might have been his motive, but why Jimmy Dean? What did he ever do to anger a fine, upstanding member of “the substance-abusing community?”

Personally, I think the guy just hates Walmart, in which case he has a lot of company. Who knows? Maybe he’s a disgruntled ex-Norwegian ticked off that a multi-national conglomerate is ruining a small town’s distinctive retail character.

In which case, he’d have even more fellow activists on his side.

Needed: A more robust recipe

In a related story, Walmart recently signed on as a national partner for Cooking Matters, a program run by the NGO Share our Strength as a way to encourage smarter shopping and more cooking at home for low-income families, rather than endless trips to the local fast-food outlet.

That’s a great idea—and Share Our Strength is a terrific organization, by the way—but in all the videos workshops and educational materials those folks distribute online and through partnering organizations, there’s nary a mention of “shopping smarter” for healthy animal foods.

And we’re not just talking about avoiding packages of sausage with hypodermic needles sticking out of them.

“Stumped for dinner plans?” the group’s website asks. “Need ideas for how get your kids to eat more vegetables? Our chefs are here to help!”

Help, as in recommending a slew of vegetarian recipes, such as Bean and Veggie Soup, Cranberry and Walnut Coleslaw and Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips.

That latter “recipe” is totally over the top as a way to get people to eat healthier. It instructs consumers to buy a package of corn tortillas, cut them into triangles, place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Really? That’s how you get people to change their shopping, cooking and dietary preferences?

Wow.

Look, I’m glad Walmart is being vigilant about drug addicts stabbing meat packages with hypodermic needles.

I just wish they’d use their considerable influence (and financial clout) to encourage the non-profits with whom they partner to expand their menus ideas.

And their recipe files.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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