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Butchering Stereotypes

Why more women are wielding cleavers than ever before

By David Szanto

Do women view meat differently than men? In recent years, the historically male-dominated practice of butchery has more women picking up the cleaver. Consciousness about industrial food production has brought meat under the microscope. Consumers are asking questions about health, ethics, and overall sustainability. Several examples of women in butchery point to an interest in seeing the bigger picture when it comes to carnivory but not in the stereotypical way we might think.

Sefi Amir, co-owner and manager of Mile End restaurant Lawrence and its companion shop, Boucherie Lawrence, doesn’t call herself a butcher but certainly identifies as a woman working with meat. Motivated to provide eaters with alternative options, Amir and her partners founded Lawrence as a way to demonstrate that excellent quality and rational consumption can co-exist. Their products are generally sourced locally but the key criterion is that the animals are raised with strict attention to feeding, environment, and end-oflife. Don’t expect any oversimplified “100% organic” labels slapped on the meat at Lawrence.

Ecological thinking is extended to the whole business. Because Lawrence purchases entire animals, the two outlets complement each other, supporting “noseto-tail” consumption. If steaks are selling well at the shop, the restaurant might offer up stewed dishes or offal offerings. Excess charcuterie produced for the restaurant might be sold at the boucherie, and if a night-time diner wants to repeat her meaty experience at home, the shop supplies the ingredients. Amir calls this business dynamic an “ecosystem” and says it’s critical to their ongoing existence.

Further afield, the west-coast (m)eatery Lindy & Grundy has also taken a big-picture approach, merging style with substance in trend-conscious Los Angeles. Founders Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura merged a commitment to selling local, pasture-raised meat with furious social media marketing and a butch-femme visual aesthetic (think Rosie the Riveter wielding a fileting knife). Whether they set the trend or capitalized on it, making healthful meat consumption a lifestyle choice raised their profile among Angelenos while changing the way people eat.

Another female meat monger is Dana Zemel, a former manager at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in New York City. Although she’s not a butcher, Zemel acquired the basic knife skills needed to transform subprimals (large portions of a carcass) into cuts ready for the display case. She left breaking down whole animals (“the holy grail, the sexy part of butchering”) to the experts on her team. But by being hands-on, she better understood how to manage workflow from the cutting room to the kitchen to the front-of-house. Knowing how the animal was finished (the last days of feeding and the slaughter) also allowed her to serve customers with greater authority: suggesting the best recipes and cooking techniques.

Meat has long been associated with masculinity, power, and strength. Whether or not there are new associations because of the new wave of women working in butchery, it is clear that attitudes toward meat consumption not only should change but can change. Being more thoughtful, respectful, and healthful prove there’s a shift in attitude while providing a broader perspective on how meat fits into an ecologically balanced way of eating.

* David Szanto is a PhD student in gastronomy at Concordia University and a professor of food culture and communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy.

 

 

 Summer 2015, Vol 7 N°3

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