An Elegant Solution

I taught a butchery class last week, something I haven't done in 5 years or so, and while I felt like I stumbled through the process, most of the crowd seemed to appreciate the skills and knowledge that I did manage to display. It was an interesting class, not so much because I hadn't done it in a while, but because the people were of a completely different sort than those who used to take my classes in San Francisco.


Teaching farmers about lamb butchery

In California, everyone who attended was a food lover - 'foodies' some call them - those who enjoy great meals and wanted to know more about the food they ate. Most weren't going to ever butcher their own lamb or pig, and so the questions asked were either theoretical - "are pasture raised animals different to butcher than animals raised in confinement? [answer: they are, remarkably so] - or practical - "how do I explain to the butcher what cut I want?"


The recent class on the other hand was made up entirely of farmers, many of whom have, or will soon, butcher their own animals. All had utilitarian questions, asked with the clear intent of absorbing how and where to cut to make the most efficient use of the carcass. "Where on the animal is the flank steak and how do I take it out?" is the kind of question they asked, wanting to understand how the animal is put together and how they could utilize it best for their customers.


But the farmers also wanted to know how to talk to their customers about the cuts they want, how to communicate about the meat from the livestock they so painstakingly raise. Which makes me hopeful that communication about food is a great bridge where farmers and consumers can come together to create the food system we need. One where the two can buy and sell directly, where consumers begin to understand how hard the farmers work to produce the food we all eat and that the profits are extremely thin. Both will see benefits of eating the entire animal, and comprehend why spending more for higher quality meat better supports the animals, the land, and the farmers.


At the end of the day, this class reminded me of this one piece of wisdom I learned from other, far more skilled butchers than myself:


A well butchered animal is an elegant solution to the dilemmas of meat cookery, efficiently portioning wholes into parts most tasty and select. Tough for braising here, tender for grilling there, all to be used to its best purpose, all to be shared. In sharing and in communicating about it, we sustain each other with comity, transitioning that life which was taken to live on in community.

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