Jesse: The names they went by were Goat, Luigi, Chachi, Ham Hock, Little Stick, and of course Boss, or The Stick. These guys were the crew, and I couldn’t have dreamed up better characters for a butcher shop. Skinny jeans weren’t the best choice of garb for my first day – I was instantly dubbed Jonas. I still haven’t come up with a witty response to, “where are your other brothers, at band practice?”
Hamhock is also called Captain Death. He’s in charge of slaughter, and he’s really freaking good at it. Four lambs from “bahing” to fully dressed in under an hour. I guess I didn’t get the clue from his rubber overalls and rain boots, but my Jonas pants will now never be worn in public.
You see, when an animal is stunned with a captive bolt pistol and then has its carotid artery slit, it doesn’t just lie there peacefully waiting to be made into perfect steaks, roasts, or burger patties. A properly stunned animal has a grand mal seizure (yes, the head is dead though) which ends in a clonic phase of muscle contractions and relaxations. In other words, these lambs were dead, with blood spraying out of their necks, and they were still running. The running sent them spinning in circles on the floor, effectively painting the kill room walls and my pants. When the running and sporadic kicking stops, they hang the carcass, spray it down, and dress it. Depending on the animal, it will either age in the walk in (a must for cattle), or be ready for butchering right away.
Mmm…not hungry for meat?
I’m absolutely in love with eating meat, and by no means am I trying to discourage anyone from eating meat (or at least, certain meat). It’s my favorite thing to cook, and it’s my favorite thing to eat, but we’ve been distanced from where our meat comes from, and what it takes to get that steak to our table. We live in the age of boxed meat, where no one has to see or think about the animal their meat came from, or what it ate, how it was treated, what chemicals it was pumped full of, or how it was slaughtered. Local butcher shops have all but disappeared in many American cities, but they’re on the rise again with the help of chefs, and educated consumers, looking for high quality local meat. These places, and these people, are the middlemen and middlewomen who connect people to their food. They know the farmers, they know how the animals are treated, and they know how they’re slaughtered and prepared for your consumption. Go to your local butcher, pester them with questions, find out what real, delicious meat tastes like! [insert long tirade on how evil the conventional meat industry is, with hopeful finish on how fantastic supporting small local farms and butcher shops is]
I’ve ignored my own advice and written way too long of a blog post, even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of a very important topic, so why all the fuss?
Julian and I are going to butcher whole hogs, chickens, rabbits, etc., as well as entire primals of beef from local producers, not because it’s trendy, but because it allows us to support the food system we believe in and the people we believe in – not to mention, deliver the highest quality and most delicious food to our customers. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to experience Captain Death’s skill first hand, but I do think it’s important to know where your meat comes from, to be appreciative that a living creature provided that meat, and to understand how our consumption choices affect the world we live in.