Joe Cloud of T&E Meats
I wrote a story on local slaughterhouses that ran today in WaPo -- my first story for the food section and one I wondered whether they would take. I mean, how do you write about a slaughterhouses in the food section? These sections generally focus on food, maybe the farms, but slaughterhouses don't usually figure in the mix. So I give editor Joe Yonan credit for seeing the story.
I decided to tackle the subject head on, literally, and lead with the slaughter of the animals. After all, that's what I had come to see. It wasn't only important for the article but for me as a meat eater. I felt I should at least be able to at least see the process if I was going to eat the stuff (others go further and actually participate).
People have asked how I felt seeing animals slaughtered. I thought I would be slightly sickened by the experience, but I wasn't. The men doing the work were serious and careful. They weren't rushed and the animals met their end quickly. (As Tim Amlaw, director of American Humane Certified, a farm animal welfare program, told me: "It needs to be instantaneous -- that's the most humane.") I found the work fascinating. It isn't easy to turn an animal into meat and there is a true craft to butcher work -- a dying craft actually in this age of automation.
The slaughterhouse I focused on, True and Essential Meats, is part-owned by Joel Salatin, the farmer who figures in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. But what I found interesting was the way Salatin roped in former landscape architect Joe Cloud to reinvent his career and buy the facility with him. Cloud was an easy target: this guy loves food and lives on a beautiful farm out in the Shenandoah Valley. Here's the lead of the story:
HARRISONBURG, VA. -- Huddled in a small pen in the slaughterhouse, the four sheep and two goats were quiet and still. A few men nearby in thick rubber aprons cut away at still-warm carcasses hanging on hooks.
"They don't seem to know what's going on," a visitor remarked.
"Oh, they know," one of the butchers replied. "They know."
Maybe it was that awareness that led the men to work quietly and efficiently, dispatching each animal with a bolt shot to the head, until the last sheep, perhaps realizing that the flock was gone, began to bleat. Then she too fell silent.
- Samuel Fromartz