The slaughter bottleneck in buying local meat

Last fall I wrote a piece for Mother Jones' sustainability issue, on how the lack of small-scale slaughter facilities hampers both local meat production and distribution. It was bumped from that issue, along with all the other food coverage, and finally appears in this month's March/April special package on food under the headline "This Little Piggy Goes Home." As part of reporting it, I spent a day riding around with a custom slaughterer named John Taylor, aka "One Shot Johnny." He's a pretty amazing guy, truly the last of a dying breed. He takes his job very, very seriously, and he's very, very good at it.

The magazine asked me to shoot some video of him, which I did. I edited together this very rough, brief clip, which is now posted on the Mother Jones website. Those who are squeamish about meat actually being from animals may not want to watch it.

8 Responsesto “The slaughter bottleneck in buying local meat”

  1. Eric Reuter says:

    It's a very serious issue. Here in central Missouri, our local pork folks have to drive their animals almost two hours away to drop them off, drive home, then make the same roundtrip later to pick up the meat. And these are small farms doing a few animals at a time, so the meat's fresher, but they have to make these long round trips. It's just crazy. I've spoken with local reps about various fairly basic ways to improve this, including mobile slaughterhouses, but there's just so much inertia and caution about any change to the food system.

    The really crazy part is that most of the country is littered with small meat processers who handle custom cuts, hunted meat, and so on for private use. They're not certified by state inspection for sale, but the meat is apparently safe enough legally to feed to your own kids, share at a potluck, donate to needy families, and so on. But current US and state laws prevent local folks from using these facilities to process meat for sale to local customers who know perfectly well what they're getting. We have several of these just in our county, and the above-mentioned pork raisers would be driving at most 10 minutes rather than 2 hours. It's asinine.

  2. Ed Bruske says:

    I wonder why he skins the beast on the ground. Seems like a lot of bending over.

  3. Charlotte says:

    Great video Bonnie -- and good on you for keeping in the "gory" parts. I'm sure there will be people who are squicked out, but well, as you said, it's all part of the reality that meat comes from animals, and animals have blood and viscera. But I have to say, I'm totally fascinated by his truck -- a winch, and a scale, and hooks on tracks, and refrigeration? It love things like that, with customized places to put things. We're lucky out here in Montana because we still have a fair number of small slaughterhouses (there's 3 within 50 miles of me) -- most of them aren't USDA, but they are licensed by the state so local producers can sell local meat (and they also afford us the luxury of being able to buy an animal by the whole or half carcass).

  4. Dan says:

    Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm had a recent post on Vermont's proposed elimination of the Vermont Meat Inspection program. 
    http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2009/03/vt-meat-inspection-cancelled.html

    You can send a message to Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas through a link in the post above or directly through this link: http://governor.vermont.gov/contact.html

    In a state as small as Vermont, I have no doubt any message will be noticed.

  5. risa b says:

    We have always done our own -- or almoshere is a hook hanging in the barn, on a pulley for that specific purpose (as we do not like to skin on the ground -- old, bad backs). Vertebrates are all pretty much alike; if you have done a fish you can do a chicken, if you have done a chicken you can do a sheep, and so on. Most of it is knowing how to keep tools sharpened. I think people are held back by not having knowledge of the named "cuts," but a joint of beef is what it is whether you went in this direction or the other; so a little ignorance shouldn't be a barrier.

    There are a lot of local processors here in Oregon; so our laws must still be somewhat reasonable. I had never really thought about this problem but I can see that it's yet another of those things that makes the Ethicurean such a necessary site.

    risa b

  6. Glad this finally got to see the light of day, Bonnie. Good job on it.

    Small scale slaughter and butchering is a big problem for folks who want to buy locally raised meat and for the farmers growing it. We drive six hours every week back and forth to the butcher to get our pigs to slaughter. Its a lot of time on the road and then there's another two hours of sorting the orders before we start doing our weekly deliveries to local stores, restaurants and individuals.

    As Dan mentioned above, our Governor Douglas is pushing for the elimination of the Vermont Sate Meat Inspection program. He doesn't seem to understand that there needs to be local processing for local food to get from farm to fork.

  7. adam says:

    "He’s a pretty amazing guy, truly the last of a dying breed."

    He may be of a dying breed, but he's no dying animal. Please, spare the pity for those individuals whose lives and bodies he profits off of.

  8. Great video, just the right amount of reality. Wasn't grossed out at all...actually kinda nice to be reminded where meat really comes from and that it doesn't just come packed nicely in the store.  Thanks again!