Dan Murphy: The Meat Machine

Owens Meats offers a vending machine: "The Candy Store for the Carnivore." ( Photo courtesy of KING-5 TV )

Even if you only occasionally sit through a local TV newscast, you know the formula: The lead is always a fire, an accident, a shooting or, alternatively, a scandal involving a politician or celebrity caught lying/cheating/stealing, preferably with a member of the opposite sex not his/her spouse.

Next, comes the weather tease — “Will you need an umbrella tomorrow? Stay tuned!” — followed by the overweight ex-jock running down the sports scores you’ve already checked online. Finally, to close the broadcast, there’s the “bright” story, a soft news/human interest piece typically teed up by one of the station’s rookie reporters sent on location to breathlessly detail how somebody trained their cat to fetch a baby’s teething ring on command, or how one intrepid housewife is feeding her family of seven on only $25 a week.

Then the wrap-up, delivered by the ethnically appropriate male and female anchors: “That’s the news, and we’ll see you tomorrow, beginning at 5 am for Good Morning [name of city].”

Doesn’t matter what city you happen to be in; the formula basically stays the same.

And to be honest, the soft news piece used to deliver an upbeat ending to the day’s depressing stories is often the most interesting segment in the newscast.

For example: KING-5, Seattle’s NBC-TV affiliate, recently ran a story about The Meat Machine.

“A typical vending machine purchase usually consists of chips, soda, candy,” the story began, “but what about smoked meats?”

Yeah, what about ’em?

Well, according to the story, Meat Machines are now officially “a thing.” Seems that a small but innovative company called Owens Meat has placed dozens of such machines throughout Greater Seattle, each dispensing jerky, pepperoni sticks, sausage and other meat treats (see photo).

The reporter explained that at a local Filson’s, an apparel and outdoor store, the Meat Machine is “very popular” with patrons. “People come into the store just for the vending machine,” she said.

A Century-Plus and Still Selling
That KING-5 segment (see it here) was a classic “bright,” and for Owens Meats, the Meat Machine has been a marketing home run.

The company, which is based in the small town of Cle Elum, Wash., located dead center in the state just east of the Cascade Mountains that bisect Washington north to south, traces its origins back mor0-e than 130 years. In the late 1880s, central Washington was coal-mining country, and Owens originally began as a provisioner to coal miners and their families.

Through the Great Depression and the eventual decline of coal industry, the firm managed to reinvent itself, developing a locker business in frozen meats, operating a packing plant — still used to this day for custom game processing — and offering mail-order sales of specialty meats that garnered such customers as Yankees legend Derek Jeter and long-time Seattle Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer.

Fast forward to its contemporary incarnation, a clever bit of marketing in which Owens bills itself as “The Candy Store for the Carnivore.” The company sells “Wagu (sic) Beef” and promotes such specialties as “5-Alarm Flat Iron Chili,” made with USDA Prime Flat Iron cuts of beef.

Which I didn’t even know was a thing.

Now, it could be said that promoting increased consumption of processed meat products by making them conveniently available in vending machines might not be the healthiest dietary strategy one could conceive. Arguably, Americans need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diets, not more pepperoni sticks and teriyaki jerky.

But the point is this: Meat Machines offer an alternative, not to the fresh produce nutritionists are always badgering us to eat, but to the certifiably high-calorie, high-sugar, highly processed snack items currently offered in vending machines, i.e., the junk food nobody pretends is part of a healthy diet.

As an alternative to cookies, chips, and cupcakes, meat items are a huge improvement.

After all, they’re the candy for carnivores.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.