Loss of Food Skills Ongoing

Reader Contribution by Sue Van Slooten
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The further industrialization of our food supply has some strange consequences. Take this morning for example. I got a panicked phone call from my butcher, that could I please come and collect the rest of the quarter cow I ordered (I’ve tried vegetarianism, and I admit, it’s not for me or the men in the house either, for that matter. I seem to be able to do a vegetarian meal about once a week though.) Right away I knew something was wrong, as my friend is usually closed on Monday, and sure enough, his main freezer had gone down. It couldn’t be fixed for two to three days, and he was afraid we’d lose the meat. We hurried down, and talked to him for a few minutes, mostly about how much longer he’d be in business. He’s sixty now, and considering retirement. His equipment is getting old, the compressor for this freezer will be two thousand dollars, and the coolant he’s supposed to use, after already replacing it with the accepted stuff, now has to do it again, because the old stuff isn’t considered good enough any more. Nobody wants the business, as nobody wants hand cut meat anymore, it’s apparently not taught in any of the schools in Ontario any more, so he will just go out of business. He estimated it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy all new equipment too. What’s a carnivore to do? 

It’s a difficult question to answer. Sure, there are butchers still in Toronto, Ottawa, New York, certainly Montreal still, among other large cities, but they’re aging. Almost all I’ve talked to are sixty or better. Any new hires coming in are all the same age, according to a local supermarket butcher who still has a job in a supermarket. He seemed shocked that I knew about the problem. The supermarkets don’t cut their meat, it comes in as “case ready.” We can all thank Wal-Mart and McDonald’s for the case ready concept. It’s all done in large factory-like places, where as my friend put it, “you just stick a white apron on somebody and point them towards a band saw.” No real skill involved. It’s only the last decade maybe that even I came to appreciate the art form that goes into properly cutting a piece of beef or a crown roast of pork. That these skills could disappear forever in the face of industrialized cut and chemically painted meat is frightening. That alone probably will drive me to become a vegetarian. Traditionally, our farmers, butchers, ranchers, and producers have known what good meat and food is, but the overwhelming tide of industrialization is throttling the life-blood out of good meat and food.Certainly on a small town level, these specialists are disappearing fast.

It would appear that one would have to go to Europe to train in the fine art of meat cutting, perhaps Italy or France. Even here, though, you have problems.Groups like Slow Food have done a lot to stop the erosion of good food there, helping to protect cheeses, hams, proscuitto. (I do have varying opinions of Slow Food, both good and bad.) Still, Europe is not immune from the industrialized approach either, as you now have a situation where even in France, if ham doesn’t have that fake pink color to it in a preformed shape identical to every other ham shape in the cooler, they now think something is wrong with it. C’est la France! for Pete’s sake, they practically invented the art form of the ham. Ditto to the Italians with their prosciuttos. My butcher friend looked very sad when I told him what had happened to French ham. He, being French, already knew though.  

Photo Credit: Chickens at Plymouth Plantation Plymouth Mass by Sue Van Slooten