It didn't take long before I noticed a numbing sensation in my fingertips...
It was the beginning of December, and I was at work. I didn't know the exact temperatures outside, but I knew we were below mid-30's. It was cold. I was wearing three pairs of socks, leggings, pants, rain pants to go over the regular pants, two shirts, a lime green colored fleece sweater, my carhartt coat, and a hideous looking purple, knitted hat. But I had nothing for my hands. Could not wear anything on my hands...
In front of me, lying on a metal table that was slap-dashed together, was the carcass of a small goat. It had been butchered three days hence. Had been aging in a walk-in cooler since then. The meat was colder than the temperatures outside. And with the help of a co-worker (the only other female there at the time; bless her...) we had to turn this small carcass into forty cuts of meat.
We had never done this before.
Watched videos, read books, and talked to others, we had done... But actually used a knife on a carcass? No. This was it.
And frankly, I was excited about it. I had been looking forward to this for a few days now; had been anticipating getting to work with knives. And now we were doing it.
My fingers lightly traced the pattern made through the rib cage... Feeling the cold meat beneath each tip. The carcass looked like it should feel clammy and slimy. Instead it felt like satin fresh off the bolt... Smooth, sleek, and glossy. It reminded me of the first time I ever touched a snake. I expected it to feel slimy, like a frog, but instead found its reptilian skin to feel like silk. Such was the case with this goat. The muscle was a brilliant scarlet in color, but with a silver cast hovering over it; lending an iridescent sheen that at some parts whispered a shade of blue. Just faintly. The contrast between meat and bone was startling; blood red clashing with ivory white.
Our first step was to break down the carcass into what's called the "primals". The big parts that get cut smaller and smaller into "sub-primals". The primals are split into three parts. From the shoulders upwards is the first one. The rib cage to the loin makes the second one. And the third is the back legs/rump. From these three you create the more recognizable cuts that you see in a store, or in your freezer.
It didn't take long before my fingers went numb. They were cold. I worried that I would get clumsy with my knife and cause damage somewhere. But I sure wasn't giving up on this. I was enjoying myself. My knife was scarily sharp and I found immense pleasure in the feeling of sliding my blade down through the rib cage; meeting the spine, where I would switch to a meat saw and separate this primal. It was like that grand feeling where your scissors glide through wrapping paper; you get your knife just right and the meat falls away at your light touch. Don't saw. Don't hack. Go easy on it; slice it. Long, smooth strokes. That's right. Like that. Feel the move reaching from your shoulder to your fingers. Yes, I know they're cold. Mine are too.
Why was I finding such pleasure in this? In this gruesome task? I couldn't answer. I'm not into gory movies. I don't like seeing people hurt; I want to take their pain and bear it for them. I don't like violence and bloodshed. I'm a wimp when it comes to needles and pain. And yet, despite these contradictions, I was smiling while cutting the carcass of a goat up. I bet I would make a psychiatrist cry, trying to figure me out.
My questions about this were only intensified as my friend walked up, and averted his eyes from the growing pile of meat cuts in front of me and my co-worker. He had just finished with harvesting vegetables in a field farther on the property and was about to take his lunch break. I grinned at him not wanting to see the carcass. Grinned that I was enjoying this, and he was not. I mischievously offered him my knife as he passed me. "Wanna try?" He did not. And then proceeded to leave me with my co-worker as we finished up. Was I wrong to enjoy this so much? I felt a touch of guilt that I had even wanted to do this. Felt a touch of envy that my gentle friend did not feel a desire to do this, and here was I was, up to my elbows in it.
I got to the fun part in butchering: filleting the ribs, leaving a boneless cut of meat that looked good enough to eat. (Oh wait.) It took a couple tries before I found a rhythm. Slip my knife beneath a rib and slide it down to the spine... Use my finger tips and ease the rib out before giving it a boisterous CRACK! with a downward move that cleanly tore the rib right off the spine and away from the meat. Oh boy... I grew to love hearing that crack. Loved it that I was the only one here who could do it. Loved that I could so neatly get all the meat off each rib and not leave a single splinter on the spine. Fine. I plead guilty to being gory and gruesome. This was awesome.
I am an omnivore that relies heavily on meat in her diet. I love my fruits, veggies, and grains, but nothing can compete with animal protein. I am an individual who can't seem to keep her iron levels up on her own. My energy levels flag easily. I rely on meat to keep my motor going. Rely on that powerhouse of protein, iron, and energy found in muscle and fat. As we cut that meat up, I started craving it... Somebody fire up the propane stove in the break area, I wanted meat. Medium rare, if you please.
When we finished cutting, we both began wrapping the cuts in butcher paper. We had gotten 43 cuts of meat. Many of them we had invented off the tops of our heads and creatively named there and then. We used to word "roast" a lot. ;) I used a fat permanent marker to write the name of each cut onto the paper. My cold fingers causing only slight problems when I needed to write an 'O' or an 'S'.
I loved this. I loved that we had just created 43 cuts of high quality food for people. This was meat that had a name, a face, a story. I had done it justice. I had used it wisely. The goat had died quickly and humanely, and every part of it had been used. I feel a mix of anger and indignation when I think about the animals slaughtered at the huge slaughterhouses (the ones you can't take your personal animals to.).Often killed inhumanely, the meat is terrible, there's so much waste, artificial dyes are added to make the meat look red... This is not what meat is supposed to be. And it irks me. I love meat. But I want it to be good meat. I have a hard time explaining this. Have a hard time putting this into words. But I can feel it. And I know that to me, butchering feels "right" to me. I love this because I am taking the quality into my own hands. Who knows, maybe butchering is in my blood and I don't know it yet.
We finished. And were told that we would do a lamb next week that would be twice the size of this goat. I snuck a glance at my friend and smiled at his grimace. He finds pleasure in pulling weeds and harvesting vegetables, whereas I find such a thing tedious and patience-testing. It seems I'm comfier with a cleaver in my hand after all...
A lamb next week? Bring it on. Dibs on filleting the ribs.