Book Reviews: Butchering: Beef and Butchering: Poultry – Rabbit – Lamb – Goat – Pork by Adam Danforth
by Lynn Miller
Since just after World War II, self reliant folk have looked on aghast as the main populace has rushed, Lemming-like, towards paper-thin convenience-oriented lifestyles that have stripped society of any and all direct skills for living and for the earned understanding of life forces. In the mid-sixties, having grown up in the suburbs of southern California, I came to the realization that I had zero comprehension of what constituted meat; where it came from, what was traded for it’s ready availability, what it meant to human sustenance, the historical significance, its glory, the destruction it comes out of, and the impact. At eighteen years old I passed through supermarket meat sections trying to imagine the form of the animal the meat came from and the whole butchering process. I had lived to that ripe young age and never even cleaned a fish! I made a pact with myself; I would not eat meat until and unless I was prepared to raise the animal and butcher it myself. I kept that promise for five years and became a connoisseur of adzuki beans and brussel sprouts. When I finally found myself on a farm, raising sheep, cattle, horses, chickens and geese I decided I was ready and I butchered a goose – cut its head off on the firewood chopping block and hung it to bleed out. We ate that goose for Thanksgiving. It was a big moment for me. Then I raised a bottle lamb, named her Cecile. She became a pet. We were very poor and quite hungry. It took a couple of days but I got up my courage(?) and cut fat Cecile’s throat and bled her out to dress for meat. I could not sleep for weeks after and my life changed in that experience.
In retrospect, as time educated me to process, I realized many times over how lucky(?) I had been with both of my first butchering experiences. I had nowhere to go for information. And there are so many things that could have gone terribly wrong. All of this abbreviated personal narrative is offered to background my critique of Adam Danforth’s new book series BUTCHERING (published with amazing sensitivity and intelligence by Storey Books).
Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming. Split into two volumes, “Beef” and “Poultry – Rabbit – Lamb – Goat – Pork”, here are 800 plus pages and thousands of photographs and charts detailing every aspect of humane slaughtering and butchering of all farm animal categories.
Fifty years have passed for me since that pact I made with myself about meat, and with those years have come myriad experiences with raising my own, hunting for meat and hides, commercial fishing where I came closest to feeling myself the hunted as a seven foot long blue shark rose from the ocean to strip me of my Salmon catch, to spending 7 hours in my farm kitchen grinding hamburger and carving cuts from a 2,000 pound bull’s carcass which had hung for 10 days, wrapped in an old sheet, in the rafters of my barn. The sticky odors of drying blood, the attacking flies, the coagulation of my spirit all assured me over and over again that this was a scene out of Dostoyevsky or Joseph Conrad not a chapter from a pretty cookbook. What I learned I learned from doing, sometimes right often wrong. Occasionally someone would step up and offer that I try it another way. Appropriately I thrill now to think what Danforth’s volumes might mean to young people coming up through the ranks of right livelihood, so much to be gained by having the head start this information offers. Wow. And Adam offers the best sort of information, a coupling of perfect illustrative photography combined with simple directions and perhaps most important a plain-spoken explanation of the whys – all of this coming from someone who cares deeply.