ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Where Animals Become Local Meat: A Virginian Slaughterhouse

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. 

Read the rest of the item on the WaPo site

Here's a list of local meat sellers in the DC region and Shenandoah Valley.

- Samuel Fromartz