Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The abattoir

Moving. Not a word you'd expect to hear when someone describes their first visit to the slaughterhouse. 

Having had a briefing from the owner, we went outside to see stock arriving and being unloaded straight into the pens. This was the only really tough moment for me, and for others, I later found out. These gorgeous cows were looking at us with their big brown eyes through the slats of the transporter and they were just so pretty - it was awful to think that they only had a couple of hours left to live.

The first thing I was moved by was how old the first farmer I encountered was, and I wondered who would replace him in his work once he retired. This thought was quite upsetting. Turns out he wasn't a farmer at all, but a chap who makes his living by collecting and delivering animals on behalf of farmers - I still wonder who will do that job eventually.

Next, I was moved by the respect that was shown by everyone concerned for the animal. And, as the owner said, by his own admittance in a cynical way, it's absolutely in his interests to treat the animals well - a stressed animal will show signs of suffering that will lower the deadweight price he gets for his meat.

Our group didn't actually see the kill, which, frankly, I was quite glad about. However, we did see the whole line, from the just-killed carcass onwards. Some things were ever so slightly macabre, and I wouldn't want to get shut in the carcass chiller, but it was clear that each member of staff on the line was highly skilled, and was allowed  plenty of time for their particular task. I asked the operations manager about staff turnover and it's very low. Of course, being situated in such a poor ex-mining area helps (you can see the mine wheels from the abattoir), but most staff are skilled in most tasks on the line, which presumably helps avoid stress and repetitive strain injury. I suspect that staff in larger abattoirs have to work many multiples faster, but the throughput in this one was about 28-30 beasts (cattle) an hour.

Finally, I was moved by the dedication of the owner to the company, the animals and his staff in a shrinking market and in the face of increasing bureaucracy. We should be appreciating our meat more, eating less of it, paying the proper price for it, and keeping firms like this one in business.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Why foodboog?

Simples. The result of a typing error on a Facebook post that had meandered onto whether or not I was going to write a blog (I wasn't), but we all quite liked it. When I looked it up, courtesy of Google translate, I discovered that 'boog' meant 'arc' or 'vault' in Dutch. I think this is quite appropriate, as I will be posting on food generally, i.e., the whole arc of the subject, and also on butchery and charcuterie specifically - and yes, meat could conceivably be cured in a vault. A bit tenuous, but I'm also sure I will find that 'boog' means 'book' in some language or other. Someone please tell me if it does.

Tomorrow is what I am trying not to regard as my first big test in the first few days of the first semester - a visit to an abattoir. This is all I'm going to write for now, as I need to spend the evening reading up on slaughterhouses before the visit, and in particular, to read a bit more about Temple Grandin and her work.

The morning commute to the School through the Welbeck Estate:

Me looking like something out of a 50's sitcom: