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Tastes like convenience
August 19, 2010 3:40 AM   Subscribe

Although Americans' appetite for local, grass-fed beef is growing, regional livestock farmers face a nagging problem: a shortage of slaughterhouses. Now some of them are turning to mobile operations to butcher their animals on their own farms. Mobile slaughter units feed the local food movement
posted by twoleftfeet (63 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Mobile slaughter units." This is going to be big.
posted by Faze at 3:50 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


How about just stop putting dead, rotting flesh in your mouths? Just sayin'...
posted by Mooseli at 3:58 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think "Mobile Slaughter Unit" would be a great name for a band. A band I wouldn't like.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:07 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


How about just stop putting dead, rotting flesh in your mouths? Just sayin'...

Personally I find there's no better accompaniment for my dead, rotting plant matter. Sometimes I like to finish it off with a glass of pulverised, rotted berries, fermented with fungus.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:13 AM on August 19, 2010 [135 favorites]


So....Obama's unemployed death panels found a new market, huh?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:16 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


How about just stop putting dead, rotting flesh in your mouths? Just sayin'...

Are you volunteering to be an alternative?

Because I could totally go for some really fresh free range longpig.
posted by loquacious at 4:19 AM on August 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Law and Order: Mobile Slaughter Unit was always my favorite show, except for the fact that every episode ended the exact same way.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 4:20 AM on August 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


Think outside the box, people. Why kill the cows? Just buy one live and then lick it at every meal.
posted by DU at 4:21 AM on August 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm on my way to go read this, because I would *use* a reputable, safe and clean mobile slaughter service.

Every year, my family raises pigs. (Please, can we not get all fighty about this? I raise my own meat and the pigs have a good, clean, sunshine-filled life until the end.) When they get big enough to go to the butcher, they go. About a week before butcher day, we park the trailer next to the pen so the pigs have a few days to get used to it. The day before, we let the pigs go short on rations so they're hungry. The day of, we drop the tailgate, open the pen up and put lots of yummy, stinky pans of food in the front of the trailer and run like hell to get out of the way of the stampede. The door closes, the pigs eat and we are on our way.

Luckily for us, our butcher is only a few miles away (so close that the pigs sometimes haven't finished their meal). Offloading is always a bit of a challenge because, hey, new place with funny smells! And no food? Driving them down the gated chutes to the pens can be a dicey thing. None of us has been hurt yet, but the guys always come back with smiles of relief and expressions of "THAT was close!"

Then--and this is what bothers me most--we leave them overnight, because drop-off is the day before. They have to be there for hours before they are killed.

A mobile slaughterhouse would be a convenience, certainly, allowing us more flexibility in scheduling the butchering, but it would also keep us a bit safer and absolutely reduce the time that these pigs spend in an unfamiliar environment, waiting in the dark. I do pigs on a small scale (three or four at a go), but I can see how this service would really help someone with more pigs, fewer resources and less easy access to a butcher.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:37 AM on August 19, 2010 [39 favorites]


Because I could totally go for some really fresh free range longpig.

Long pig would still be dead, rotting flesh. However, Dr. Nutrio's Amazing All-in-One Food Pills are a different story! They provide all the nutrition an adult needs, made out of recycled petrochemicals,algae, and Science! They will never rot or biodegrade, and, after you eat them, neither will you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:37 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


MonkeyToss, thanks for that insight. I eat meat (although less and less of it, since I find I really like the challenge of cooking vegetarian/vegan meals), but I am pretty bugged by the general "process blindness" most people have towards their food chain -- we don't worry about slaughtering and butchering because it is always out of sight. I like the idea of trying to minimize the trauma that goes into meat production a lot, because I don't imagine that meat production is going to go away any time soon. If we're going to eat animals, we should try not to be dicks about it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:43 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Long pig would still be dead, rotting flesh.

Not if you roast 'em alive first!
posted by loquacious at 4:54 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust, I just now found this manual for MSUs. Interesting, especially the emphasis on humane handling (and yes, they are using Dr. Temple Grandin's work on helping to minimize the physical stress animals endure at processing facilities. If you don't know her research, check it out).

P.S. You have MeMail.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:55 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Next up: The Mobile Rendering Unit! Turning offal into health and beauty items in the convenience of your own backyard!
posted by mittens at 4:57 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about just stop putting dead, rotting flesh in your mouths? Just sayin'...
posted by Mooseli at 11:58 AM on August 19


You say "dead, rotting flesh" like that's a bad thing!

Frankly, now that I have acquired my cow-sized wine glasses I don't care about anything any more.
posted by Decani at 5:01 AM on August 19, 2010


If we're going to eat animals, we should try not to be dicks about it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:43 PM on August 19


Interestingly, that sentence still works if you switch the nouns around.
posted by Decani at 5:04 AM on August 19, 2010 [22 favorites]


...but I am pretty bugged by the general "process blindness" most people have towards their food chain -- we don't worry about slaughtering and butchering because it is always out of sight.

I grew up with kids closely related to those who run Schmunk's Tires, which has some local fame in Oregon since they often market "free beef when you buy a pair of tires". In my part of the Oregon backcountry near Springfield, they had cow ranches. Across from our elementary school (literally across the street) was a butcher - Mohawk Valley Meats.

I grew up personally knowing the cows I eventually ate. I grew up knowing who cared for them and how they were cared for. I knew the fields whose grass they munched, played in many of them; knew the trees whose branches they'd gnaw at until leaving beautifully manicured bottoms, at the height their necks could no longer strain to reach. On our hour-long school bus ride in the mornings and afternoons, my favorite stretches were alongside the ranches, where I could gaze at the cows' serenity, watch mothers care for calves beneath those cow-tailored trees, bulls and their occasional spats. I grew up knowing the butchers who slaughtered adult cows, how they slaughtered them and how they did their best to be humane. I still remember the surprisingly sweet, cleanly pungent scent of their building and seeing the immense cattle carcasses hanging on steel hooks in the gigantic refrigeration room behind the counter.

I still eat red meat, but only from cows whom I know have been treated well from start to finish. (In France, there are specific criteria that ranchers and slaughterhouses have to meet for various labels, so it's relatively easy to find humanely-raised meats.) I'm thankful for having had an upbringing where I knew what we ate, and how it got that way. It gives you respect for people who are humane with animals, the ability to identify and support them, and respect for what you eat, which I too see lacking in today's world. I never eat fast food because I simply can't bring myself to support farming or ranching that treats animals as dispensible objects. They're not. They're living, breathing beings whose lives are taken so that others may live. They deserve proper treatment.
posted by fraula at 5:34 AM on August 19, 2010 [23 favorites]


I could have sworn this was discussed here before, but all I could find was this answer I gave to a question about humane meat. Anyway, mobile slaughter units are not a new idea, and are such an obviously good idea (for all the reasons MonkeyToes mentioned, plus they help change the economics of being a small producer) that I'm surprised so few places have them.
posted by Forktine at 6:18 AM on August 19, 2010


Interesting post, thanks.
posted by Gator at 6:30 AM on August 19, 2010


Back when I lived on my palatial country estate I'd raise pigs, always three at a time. One to pay for the feed, one to pay for the processing and one to eat. Plus they liked each other's company. They were happy, playful pigs, a joy to watch and interact with. In the fall, when they'd gotten as big as they could on the garden castoffs and windfalls from my vast orchard, (3 trees) I'd call Herman and he'd come out with his little .22 rifle, we'd ply the porkers with homemade beer, lead them out one by one to the far end of the pasture under the big walnut, and Herman would say: "Hold still, little piggy, while I shoot you."
One shot in the head, then we'd hang it, stick it, saving the blood for sausage, gut it, skin it and lower it into the back of my pickup for the trip to the Swiss smokehouse the next town over.
We'd have fresh pork tenderloin for supper that night, and later there'd be bacon and liverwurst and blood sausage, and for Christmas we'd have the best ham ever.
We had a good arrangement, the pigs and I. I'd feed them well all summer long, and they'd feed me and my family all the year after.
posted by Floydd at 6:32 AM on August 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


my wife is a vegetarian and I've noticed that I don't need much meat at all to make a vegetarian meal extremely satisfying. Makes me think that the most sustainable form of living is a vegetarian diet augmented with just enough meat to fulfill your carnivore craving/protein needs - probably on the order of 90-10.
posted by any major dude at 7:11 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


This could be a good concept for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel, sort of like the chili cookoffs in Part II.
posted by brundlefly at 7:14 AM on August 19, 2010


This is a huge issue for food security and food safety. While the best solution may be to not eat meat at all, until the concept of vegetarianism catches on people are still going to eat meat, and the current system is designed to make us sick, and is designed to exclude local "gate-to-plate" farmers, as well as innovators.

Mobile slaughterhouses are great inventions.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:17 AM on August 19, 2010


>just enough meat to fulfill your carnivore craving/protein needs - probably on the order of 90-10.

This makes sense economically too. Grass fed beef is expensive. On the order of $15/steak, $5-$6/lb for ground beef. Eat better meat, but less of it.

I find it challenging to get anywhere near those proportions however, because the grass fed stuff tastes so dang good.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:24 AM on August 19, 2010


Think outside the box, people. Why kill the cows? Just buy one live and then lick it at every meal.

Or you could just bleed it every so often.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:26 AM on August 19, 2010


I get much of my meat from Glynwood Farms a NY farm that has pioneered the mobile slaughterhouse in this region.

The ridiculous thing is how because the regulations stipulate that the inspector has to have their OWN bathroom and office, the slaughter trailer has to come with a mini-RV trailer too.
posted by melissam at 7:28 AM on August 19, 2010


related: Elegy for the Knackerman, via meatpaper .
posted by Chrischris at 7:33 AM on August 19, 2010


Jeez, industrialized people are so complicated. Just tie the poor cow up to a tree and slice its jugular and then hack it up.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:48 AM on August 19, 2010


Here in New Zealand homekill services are common and have existed in a government monitored form since at least 1999, and in other forms probably long prior.
posted by arruns at 7:57 AM on August 19, 2010


This is a wonderful idea. Anything that makes it easier for small, humane producers to get their meat to those who want it is great, in my book.

For the past couple of years we've bought half of a pig from a farm up in central Maine. They only raise a few animals, so it's hard to break into the list-- you have to reserve in the winter for the following fall. Last year we drove up there and got to meet our pig's parents.

It's wonderful knowing that the animal had a great life. And with half a pig we can meet most of our meat needs for the year; we try to use all of the parts as well (i.e. skin, lard, etc.). We also buy free range chickens, but we've been increasing our consumption of vegetarian meals as well-- last night we had locally-produced soy tempeh curry.

Interestingly the pig meat encourages us to do that by making it seem less appealing to eat grocery store meats.
posted by miss tea at 7:58 AM on August 19, 2010


Apologies in advance for the length of this comment.

tl;dr version: There's merit in mobile slaughterhouse units, not only for the increased convenience to the farmer, but for reducing the stress on pigs and increasing the tastiness of the pork (in addition to increasing the transparency of the food production chain, reducing reliance on mass slaughterhouses, etc. MSUs could be good for a lot more than jokes about long pork, too).

Stressing an animal in its last hours or minutes affects its physiology in ways that I can't explain, but that Dr. Temple Grandin can. Grandin says that "Handling during the last five to ten minutes before stunning will have a significant effect on lactate in the blood" and also that "(h)igh lactate levels at bleeding are associated with increased drip loss and poorer meat quality." Reduced stress = better meat. A MSU does not require animals to be prodded (with electric cattle prods) through chutes (and a .22 to the head even less, I'd guess). In addition, MSUs may be subject to humane slaughter audits, under federal law. I have never seen an inspection done, though I'd guess it's easier for a single inspector to evaluate a truckbed-based unit than a sprawling industrial slaughterhouse. MSUs are under scrutiny, not least by the farmers and other consumers of local meats. When you're the only MSU in the area, you had *better* be good. I digress. Having the abattoir come to the animals rather than the other way around spares the animals the physiological stress of loading, traveling, darkness, strange-smelling surroundings and handling by a wide variety of strangers (some of whom are bound to be more skilled than others).

What I *don't* know about MSUs is whether, as in Floydd's case, you get all the parts. The butcher that my family uses does not release the "extras" to us--no brain, no tail, no hooves. No offal. But what does come back is so different from the refrigerated cases at the grocery store. Here's what it looked like last year:

"The pork came back from the butcher yesterday, and my husband and I spent the evening elbow-deep in meat. He pulled into the driveway with tubs of meat loaded in the bed of the truck. I've spent most of my life buying meat already packed in plastic and Styrofoam so it was a bit of a shock when the wax paper was pulled back to reveal layers of pinkish-red animal muscle. In that moment, I realized just how much the trappings of the grocery store have served to distract me from realizing what I was really looking at. There was no florescent light, no plastic green garnish, no adult-oriented soft rock playing. No cleverly laid-out packaging. Just a couple of beat-up gray plastic tubs that need to be returned to the butcher.What I was looking at was my dead hogs, cut up by a professional, in the back of the pickup.

"We elected to pack everything ourselves rather than have the butcher do it, so we got to work with the vacuum sealer right away. The freezing temperature made it possible to cover up one of the tubs and leave it outside, which is probably the only advantage of raising winter pigs. We toted the other tub inside. Chops first, at ten bags; then roasts (five). The other tub was full of meat parts--unidentifiable, and about as big as my outstretched hand. These were sausage trimmings, unground, because we also decided to do that part of the processing ourselves."

(There were also hams and bacon, which we picked up a week later.)

Meat. In tubs.

As I mentioned upthread, the drop-off occurs the day (or night) before the actual killing. Our butcher has a loading dock right next to the parking lot, so you can pull a trailer up to it and drop the ramp and have the pigs walk into the building. There's always this space between the trailer and the loading gate, though, and it's a good idea to station your manly-man friends, who are all excited about the manly! art! of! butchering!, behind blocking panels, so they can be human fences in case of a porcine escape attempt. Our piggies are usually a little confused. Not resistant, but...hesitant. They've gone from sunlight and starlight to florescent and steel, and they slow down their progress. The guys, wielding their pig blockers, gently bump them on the butts to get them to go forward, as my husband says "Don't let them get turned around!" It doesn't take too long. The pigs end up in pens at the end of the hallway (which reminds me uncomfortably of roped teller lines, only industrial style) to spend their last night on earth in the dark, smelling blood, strange hogs, death.

Is that last statement accurate? I don't know...but I *think* so. And it bothers me a lot. I spend months looking after these guys, toting water and 50-lb. bags of feed and scraps from the kitchen. In hot weather, I let the kids use to hose to give the pigs showers, which they love. I bring them scraps from the kitchen and the pigs eat what I eat. All the same, they're bitey and pushy and would knock me over if I weren't careful. I don't love them. They're not little Wilburs. But I do respect them and try to treat them humanely and well, and I can't stand thinking of their last hours. For me, a mobile slaughter unit would reduce my (subjective, human) distress but it sure as shootin' would reduce my *hogs'* stress levels.

I know that I kill them. They get good lives. I would like to extend the quality of their lives that extra bit and shorten the time they spend in fear and stress.

Not all farmers share this thinking. Not all farmers will have manpower, trailer and handy butcher together on the same day. Some farmers, and conscious consumers of local meat, will see the philosophical value of MSUs. All of which may help propel a still-small niche practice. To frame it only as a matter of convenience, or as a local food thing (with all of the political/social/cultural connotations that surround such a phrase) does a disservice to a functional, useful, practical solution.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:59 AM on August 19, 2010 [130 favorites]


When I was a little kid my grandparents had a small farm. Grandma would chop the heads off chickens when it was time for soup, the cows were for milk so lived a long life, and someone would come and kill and butcher the pigs, who became home-smoked ham and kielbasy made from scratch by Grandma, a big meat grinder, and our own smokehouse that still stands. This was 60 or so years ago.

So maybe this is not such a new idea.
posted by mermayd at 8:11 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


we don't worry about slaughtering and butchering because it is always out of sight.

Hmm ... to help promote their business, they should put some graphics on the outside with a cutaway showing the interior in action. Could you imagine that passing you on the highway in the morning before you're fully awake?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:18 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of surprised that this is a new thing. There is at least one "death trailer" servicing the small farms in Venango County, PA that has been in operation for at least five years, probably many more.

I have friends who own a farm that uses one of these trailers. They raise free-range, grass-fed cattle and lamb. When it's time for slaughter they make a phone call and make an appointment. Later, the trailer pulls up into their driveway, and the animals are herded inside one by one. After a few hours the farmers are left with pounds and pounds of meat wrapped in small, sellable packages wrapped in plain white butcher paper.

I was under the impression that this is how it is done on small farms all over. It's certainly better for the famers and definitely better for the animals.

I have a fridge full of their lamb meat right now, and it's some of the tastiest I've ever had. The best part is that if I have enough free time I can drive up to the farm and meet my future dinner.

My friends have been good animal-husbandry role-models and one of the reasons I raise my own chickens.
posted by Alison at 8:38 AM on August 19, 2010


My wife's grandfather used a mobile slaughter unit on occasion.

I think the "new" part is referring to the "federally inspected" portion of the article.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:47 AM on August 19, 2010


The butcher that my family uses does not release the "extras" to us--no brain, no tail, no hooves.

A lot of that is food safety practices, prion/BSE particularly. No nerve tissue, brain or spinal cord, is suposed to get into the human (or animal) foodchain, in Canada, at least. The no offal rule may just be something your butcher does, or it may be required by law in your part of the world.
posted by bonehead at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2010


I've mentioned before that, like a couple of others on this thread I raise pigs small scale also. I'd welcome a mobile unit, or even the ability to be able to do the killing myself, not because I'd take any pleasure from it, but because by the time they're ready, my pigs know and trust me and they'd know nothing of the act whatsoever, which is the way I'd like it to be.

However in the UK, the government saw fit to end the ability to do this after the multitude of 'food scares' and public health issues (ironically, all of them associated with large scale food production) and now all meat for sale (the economics of pig production at any level means selling the meat to fund the venture is essential) must be slaughtered at a registered slaughterhouse. And because this is the EU, and we're bound by EU rules, most small slaughterhouses can't make enough profit to stay open and conform to the ever expanding regulations that our own government and that of the EU see fit to impose.
So it's getting harder and harder for me to find somewhere close by that isn't what can only be described as a meat processing factory. Two of the three small family-run slaughterhouses close to me have closed in the last 5 years, the last one open (which I took 3 pigs to on Monday night, for slaughter yesterday) is struggling to make enough to buy new equipment and send their staff of mandatory courses so they stay within the law. These people care about the welfare of the animal and understand the pride and care we small producers take, and that we want our animals to have as decent and dignified end as possible.

So here in the UK at least, it's getting harder and harder to give our animals a stress-free send off, which saddens me. In the future, I may simply go "off the radar" and go my own way. If I'm not officially selling, then I don't have to use a government sanctioned slaughterhouse - but why should it come to that in the 21st century?
posted by Markb at 9:23 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I heard a Buddhist monk speak once about Buddhism and the kitchen. One of the things he said that really stays with me is that we should always remain conscious of the suffering involved in food. Not necessarily in the sense of animal's pain (although that, too), but in the realization that food does not just magically appear; there is a chain of production that involves vast collective effort -- farmers, packer, shippers, store personnel, butchers, preparers, the plants and animals, even the people who build and maintain roads and cars and traffic systems are part of a complex web of relationships that allow us to feed ourselves. When you cut those carrots or those chops, think about the moment you are cutting, but also about the chain of interactions that led to that moment -- don't just cook and eat food; cook and eat the hell out of that food.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2010 [15 favorites]


Meat. In tubs.

When I went to pick up the first animal we bought on the hoof from the butcher I was more than a little dismayed to have them roll out a cart full of packets of meat with my wife's name on them. It was... disconcerting.

Hmm ... to help promote their business, they should put some graphics on the outside with a cutaway showing the interior in action.

That's more-or-less what I do. We have customers that happily buy from us because we walked them through our entire process. Basically the same walk-through we do with our inspector (albeit the inspector brings her own thermometer and I've never offered to let her pet a chicken).

When I was driving my trailer home the first time (looks roughly like this), I had a number of people ask me what it was for and be really, really pleased when I told them it was a rolling chicken slaughterhouse. One guy shook my hand and thanked me for the work I do.

I was under the impression that this is how it is done on small farms all over.

Unfortunately, no. End-to-end mobile facilities are pretty new, I think. The general method that very small farms (like, ten pigs) use is selling the animal to the consumer live and delivering her to the butcher for the cut and wrap. It's the same process that a lot of hunters go through with their deer and, similarly, is outside of the regulatory food chain.

Mobile processing units are new from a regulatory standpoint and the rules are still being defined. There is a metric buttload of good work going into it from regulators at the state and federal level to figure out how to sign off on mobile units. For example, a big issue we're seeing here is disposal of wastewater. The regulations are written on the assumption that I'm doing thousands of birds every day. And they're good regulations, but they're not relevant for someone processing 75-150 birds every couple of weeks. We know, and our inspector knows, that running our rinsewater on our garden or on pasture is a perfectly reasonable way to recycle the "nutrients." However, the inspector's job remains enforcing the rules regardless of whether the both of us think they're stupid.

On preview:

I think the "new" part is referring to the "federally inspected" portion of the article.

Absolutely. Also state level. Going legal means you can sell retail, which means that anyone who goes to a farmers' market (and has the money/privilege) has access to small scale meats. There has always been a grey market of unregulated meat and dairy and whatever. It works well for those of us that are connected and, hey, I trust my friend more than J. Random Butcher, but, if I'm someone whose life doesn't revolve around buying food, being able to buy at a farmers' market with *someone* keeping an eye on shit is pretty awesome.

If I'm not officially selling, then I don't have to use a government sanctioned slaughterhouse - but why should it come to that in the 21st century?

It comes to that in the 21st century because consumers aren't in a position to observe the conditions of their food production and because the business ethics of the 21st century are about pushing every rule you can. The assumption is that every seller is doing their best to adulterate food and maximize profit. And, hey, it's the global economy, we've got inefficiencies to streamline and shareholders to placate.

We, as producers and processors, have a shitty track record as a group and having someone to sign off on us for people that don't have the opportunity to watch first hand its great.

That said, if your slaughterhouses are only being shut down by universal enforcement of laws, that's really something. The last USDA poultry co-pack in Washington was shut down by punitive and selective enforcement.
posted by stet at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


Thanks MonkeyToes for the thoughtful perspective.
posted by Sreiny at 10:54 AM on August 19, 2010


Don't know about mobile, but my local ranch co-op, PaiDom (not affiliated except that I buy their meat) does a good job of providing ethical meat to us DFH's in Amarillo and Lubbock.

Also, Mooseli? I have never put rotting meat into my mouth. Fresh is the only way to go.
posted by sotonohito at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2010


I have never put rotting meat into my mouth. Fresh is the only way to go.

You take bites out of a living cow? That's hardcore!

Anyway, as a vegetarian myself, I have to say this gets a thumbs-up from me. I mean, I'm not going to take advantage of this service personally, but if you're going to eat meat this seems like the best way to do it.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:26 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have never put rotting meat into my mouth. Fresh is the only way to go.

Dry-aged beef is the way to go!
This thread is making me hungry.
And miss my pigs.
posted by Floydd at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2010


mobile slaughter units are not a new idea

No, but there need to be more of them. New England has a serious shortage of slaughterhouse capacity. Currently, New Hampshire farms are using a mobile poultry-slaughter unit like the one described in this article, which has been a real boon. You can't just chop heads off and then offer the animals for sale any more, because meat for sale needs to be processed in a USDA inspected facility. The mobile units can fill the need where there is no such permanent facility and not much market for one. Our beef and pork growers generally have to travel several hours to Sanford, ME, to a processor there - a stressful journey, as many describe it and as was described here.
posted by Miko at 2:18 PM on August 19, 2010


Rotting and digesting are the same thing.

If it's tasty and nutritious and healthful, then better that it digest inside me than digest outside me. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:55 PM on August 19, 2010


Rotting and digesting are the same thing

Not really. Or at least, only in the most vague, approximate way.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:31 AM on August 20, 2010


After seeing the slaughterhouse process in action as a child, I don't eat meat. Some ways of raising and killing may be more "humane" than others, but I don't kid myself: killing is killing. And it is awful. Unless you've been there and seen it, then you don't know. If you have been there, or even participated in it, and it doesn't bother you, then I honestly don't know what to say. Perhaps you and I are wholly different creatures and would talk right past each other.

I realize my beliefs aren't so popular at Metafilter, but I could really give a fuck.
posted by belvidere at 3:23 AM on August 20, 2010


I was more than a little dismayed to have them roll out a cart full of packets of meat with my wife's name on them. It was... disconcerting.

...until I gave her a taste!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:33 AM on August 20, 2010


If you have been there, or even participated in it, and it doesn't bother you, then I honestly don't know what to say. Perhaps you and I are wholly different creatures and would talk right past each other.

In case we aren't wholly different creatures and are able to talk to each other rather than past each other, here's my perspective. I've watched too many slaughterings to count, have helped with a few, and have helped with some butcherings. I've seen it done well, and I've seen it done horribly wrongly. The lesson for me is not that killing is wrong -- it's that suffering is wrong, and if one is going to eat meat, it is a moral imperative to eat meat from animals that had good lives and were given a good death.

If the choice is 100% factory farming or vegetarianism, I think I'd be leaning veggie. But that's not the choice (or at least it isn't for those of us with the resources and options to make other choices). So I buy local meat, from producers I know, and that is slaughtered and processed ethically. I like the taste of meat, I feel healthier when I eat it in moderation, and I'm comfortable with the way small-scale meat production fits into the ecosystem of a farm -- you are adding efficiency, rather than losing it as you might with huge feed-lot production systems.

But I'm also the first to acknowledge that you can't feed the world this way, and it's a total luxury in many ways. However, the legal and technical innovations that are encouraging more mobile slaughter units are important -- more of these units will allow more ethical production of meat. Even if you personally choose not to eat meat, surely you would agree that, for the people who will continue to eat meat, more ethical slaughtering is better than less. And, because of how even small-scale meat production can be high-value, this is a way of supporting and encouraging small-scale agriculture, which gives some good alternatives to the large-scale commodity production that now dominates.
posted by Forktine at 5:25 AM on August 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


If you have been there, or even participated in it, and it doesn't bother you, then I honestly don't know what to say. Perhaps you and I are wholly different creatures and would talk right past each other.

I don't agree with this, since, for most of human history (and through much or the world today), most people have lived close enough to meat production to know the score, and I expect that those people were not "wholly different creatures," unless you believe that the vast majority of humans in the past (and present) were some kind of sociopaths. I kind of think the opposite is true -- since we in the industrialized world have separated ourselves from meat (and food in general), we have less idea of the cost of meat eating, including that real living animals were slaughtered for our convenience. Which, as the various food scares over the years have shown us, is not working out all that well. Large-scale industry seems great for producing cars or electronics, it does not have such a great track record with food, and our general ignorance exacerbates the problem.

I am not saying that I don't respect how you feel. I have a lot more respect for people who have seen a slaughter and say "I will not support this; I'll be a vegetarian" than for people who eat meat in the ignorant belief that it magically appears on the grocery shelves. (Let's not dwell on the irritation I feel for "hur hur BACON!" from people whose sole association with food production is picking a package off a shelf.) I do, however, think it is possible to be completely cognizant of the process of meat production (either by directly participating or just paying attention to reality) and still eat meat, just as I think it is possible to be willing to slaughter animals (or have animals slaughtered) for food without being some sort of alien being with degenerate morals.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:33 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a lot more respect for people who have seen a slaughter and say "I will not support this; I'll be a vegetarian" than for people who eat meat in the ignorant belief that it magically appears on the grocery shelves. (Let's not dwell on the irritation I feel for "hur hur BACON!" from people whose sole association with food production is picking a package off a shelf.)

Oh god, this. My irritation with the "rah rah MEAT" jokers who never have and never will look into an animal's eyes as it dies has no bounds. I would give up hamburgers and steaks forever if it would shut them up, or force them to confront the ethics of what they are saying.
posted by Forktine at 5:43 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]



Oh god, this. My irritation with the "rah rah MEAT" jokers who never have and never will look into an animal's eyes as it dies has no bounds. I would give up hamburgers and steaks forever if it would shut them up, or force them to confront the ethics of what they are saying.


You realize that most of our great grandparents did this and it didn't make them vegans? And that people all over the world slaughter animals themselves everyday nonchalantly. I've done this. How emotional it is depends on your sentimentality about animals and the animal itself. But unfortunately, people who have slaughtered many animals are probably LESS likely to care. After being a veg*n for years, the first chicken I slaughtered was a little upsetting for me (I shook and cried afterwards) and I vowed not to ever eat factory farmed chicken.

100 chickens later (done in a mobile unit), I still care about the environmental effects of factory farms and preserving family farms, but it's awful hard for me to muster up care for actual chickens. Same goes for most slaughterhouse workers. It's called desensitization. I think if you saw slaughter from far away it would disturb you more than if you were engaged in it yourself.

I've heard the same thing from friends who work with animals in cancer research labs.

The last thing veggie advocates want is for more people to do slaughter. Then their bloody videos would have less of an impact.

I think this Slate article does a good job taking down the false virtue of do it yourself slaughter.
posted by melissam at 5:59 AM on August 20, 2010


I'd also add (last comment, I promise) that the ethics of food don't begin and end with meat. The lettuce on your plate, the wheat in your bread -- did they come from producers that farm right up the edge of the streams, that have eroding hillsides, that spray heavily, that treat workers poorly? Or did they come from farmers who follow NRCS conservation farming plans, who leave riparian buffers on the streams, who use GPS and other technology to reduce their chemical inputs to an absolute minimum, and who treat their workers with respect and dignity?

Choices don't end in the meat aisle, and there are good and bad throughout the entirety of the food production web, from farm to store.
posted by Forktine at 6:05 AM on August 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


You realize that most of our great grandparents did this and it didn't make them vegans?

I can't speak for Forktine, but that is not my point. I think that our great grandparents (hell, my father) at least knew the score. They ate meat, but they knew where meat came from. I have met people who wanted to eat meat at every meal but wouldn't cook it in any kind of non-processed form because "it's icky." Or the people who won't eat tripe or organ meats "because they are gross."* And yelling "bacon" at vegetarians as if it proves anything other than you are a dick is, well, dickish, especially if you have no experience with bacon production and the vegetarian does.

*Personally, I don't eat tripe because it's like chewing a bicycle tire, and I limit organ meats because eating a lot of filters doesn't seem particularly wise in the age of agribusiness, but not because either are icky or gross. (It's grosser to eat a stomach than a leg? Really?)
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:13 AM on August 20, 2010


I've been indirectly involved in the development of a Mobile Harvest Unit in California's Central Coast, and the challenges have been several.

First, the USDA held up approval of the unit for more than a year, citing us for a different deficiency at each inspection (inevitably one that hadn't been mentioned previously).

Then they would not send an inspector (who must be on site at all times) more than once or twice a month. Because the unit can only process 5-6 steers a day, the primary users of the unit couldn't harvest enough steers to cover their overhead.

An additional problem isn't directly related to the MHU, but the rest of the production process: there are very few packing houses (where sides of beef are fabricated into smaller portions and cryovac sealed, aka "cut'n'wrap" facilities) that are not under contract to the ag giants, and therefore who can take on smaller jobs. The last one in Southern California was taken over by the bank and shut down a year ago (though is now being resurrected under new ownership).

Our close friends who are the primary user of the MHU, Rancho San Julian Beef (self-link?) hardest-hit by these challenges. Between the lack of USDA inspector availability, and the high costs of cut & wrap from the processors, they've had a hard time meeting demand and staying profitable. Even though it would be vastly cheaper to send the steers upstate to be slaughtered and processed at a large facility, they care too much about the animals to put them through the experience, and there's always the chance that you don't get back the same animal you gave the processor.

They're currently evaluating opening their own butcher shop so they can process the beef from the MHU themselves. There are provisions in the inspection regimes that if you are selling directly from your own premises, any processing taking place there only requires periodic state inspection, just as your local butcher shop does (n.b. the slaughter itself always takes place under USDA supervision). This will enable them to sell directly to the public in person and online, control costs, and almost more importantly, quality--you'd be amazed how much of a difference a good butcher makes!

This ecosystem of smaller slaughter facilities, UDSA inspection, processing, and retailing is all still sorting itself out, and the USDA policies encouraging consolidation and regulations geared towards mega-scale industrial processing aren't making it any easier. We're finally starting to see some progress, as with the OP (and in our friends' case, finally getting semi-regular UDSA inspectors on-site and increasing the capacity of the MHU), we're starting to establish a viable supply chain to supply customers with the locally grown and humanely harvested beef we want.
posted by joshwa at 6:24 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the Slate article, linked above: "...I can only speak for myself, but lopping off an animal's head didn't do it for me. What I felt, instead, was a deep gratefulness and appreciation for what Whole Foods provides me. And, with all due respect to Blume, I doubt that butchering livestock creates "a kind of ethic" that will save the world. I rely not just on my own paltry experience for this insight, but on the gory whole of human history. I know this sounds heartless, but it's the truth: Killing Arlene was messy and mundane, like cleaning the gutters."

melissam, agree to disagree; it's one woman's take on what butchering failed to do for her, roped together with high-flown statements about slaughter. It reads to me like the complaint of someone who was let down, rather than a discrediting of the premise that DIY butchering is without ethical value.

FWIW (and if Jennifer Resse can extrapolate lessons from her personal experience, then I will too), taking my own animals to the butcher--delivering them to their deaths--reminds me that in raising an animal, I am responsible for every part of its life cycle. Even if I don't like the critter. Even if the weather is crappy and I don't feel like toting water. Even if the death is gory and requires clean-up. There is nothing romantic about butchering. It is one more task of care, one that should be taken seriously and with effort made to reduce suffering, and that's part of the deal too. It is not desensitization as much as a refusal to romanticize. Peeps? Yes, yes, very cute. Gotta think about carcass disposal, feed mill timing, providing heated water source in the winter rather than "ooooh, fuzzy and adorable!"

I *think* that learning about being responsible for other creatures, even when the work is boring and repetitive and difficult--even when the animals bite and peck you--even when you'd rather be doing something else, somewhere warmer and more full of drinks with kicky little umbrellas in them--is its own sort of lesson in ethics.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:35 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


GenjiandProust , you've gotta try tripe prepared at a really good ethnic restaurant. Spicy Korean tripe dishes are delicious, though a good tripe Goulash also isn't bad. This is coming from a reformed picky eater that grew up on Kraft Mac.

Monkeytoes, I'd be curious what you think about this short film Partitions
http://vimeo.com/7748803
I think the fact that most large ruminant farmers aren't doing their own slaughter has really changed things.

I also find that food wastage has little to do with whether or not people slaughter their own animals. I know plenty of hunters and farmers that throw away perfectly good meat, fat, and even hides. The movement towards less wastage has largely come from the culinary front and not from the farm.
posted by melissam at 8:07 AM on August 20, 2010


It's called desensitization. I think if you saw slaughter from far away it would disturb you more than if you were engaged in it yourself.

No. I saw it up close and personal and I found it plenty disturbing. Then again, I've never been "desensitized"; I still have real feelings and emotions.
posted by belvidere at 4:20 PM on August 20, 2010


Then again, I've never been "desensitized"; I still have real feelings and emotions.

I think you missed the point of desensitization- you have to do things over and over again to get the effect. But thanks for reducing me (and millions of other people the world over) into an emotionless feeling-less subhumans.
posted by melissam at 1:47 AM on August 21, 2010


I think you missed the point of desensitization- you have to do things over and over again to get the effect.

No, I got it: Turn yourself into a vacant, robotic killing machine. It's a noble goal.

But thanks for reducing me (and millions of other people the world over) into an emotionless feeling-less subhumans.

I'd say, "You're welcome", but I'm not responsible for the transformation. Plus, I'm arguing against the process. Have you been reading closely?
posted by belvidere at 2:29 AM on August 21, 2010



I'd say, "You're welcome", but I'm not responsible for the transformation. Plus, I'm arguing against the process. Have you been reading closely?


Yes, you are assuming everyone who slaughters animals as part of their livelihoods or just to eat is an emotionless feeling-less person. From the small farmer in Africa to the butcher in Kansas, you view yourself as superior based on an experience you had as an impressionable child. I can assure you such people laugh, love, smile, and are full human beings. Some such people would laugh at you or I for inappropriate amounts of emotion towards animals.
posted by melissam at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some such people would laugh at you or I for inappropriate amounts of emotion towards animals.

Actually, I've met plenty of people who slaughter and eat meat who do feel strong emotions for their food animals, right here within a few miles of me, many of them. Their feelings are not robotic, but quite complicated mixtures of respect, empathy, dependence, interdependence, sorrow, satisfaction, and pleasure.

But they see the killing and eating of them as in line with a natural order of things, or a chosen ethical path well adapted to our region and environment and a thinking response to a food system full of distancing, and they tend regard those of us who draw easy lines like vegetarian/meat-eater as naive about the realities of life, which feeds upon life. It's not possible to eat at all without causing suffering - even growing produce requires destroying habitat, displacing existing animal populations, creating harsh or even poisionous conditions for insect pests, birds, and rodents; the harvesting of produce destroys uncountable living beings as machinery moves over fields and fruits and vegetables are washed for market; industrial farm runoff renders lakes and rivers inhospitable to life and changes the soil. Bacteria in and on food perish in dark and acid in our digestive processes.

Being a vegetarian is a solid step toward reducing one's environmental impact, but it can never be complete. No human being is without blood on their hands, simply because we eat, live, take up space, and consume resources, and if we stop doing those things, we die. There are more and less humane practices, more and less mindful ways of life, but no room at all for presenting oneself as without sin against the earth. We damage just by being alive.

The task of an ethical person is not to set oneself as above others, but to more closely examine ourselves for further ways to reduce impact, and exert greater control over what kinds of actions we take to replace our consumed resources.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on August 21, 2010 [11 favorites]



Actually, I've met plenty of people who slaughter and eat meat who do feel strong emotions for their food animals, right here within a few miles of me, many of them. Their feelings are not robotic, but quite complicated mixtures of respect, empathy, dependence, interdependence, sorrow, satisfaction, and pleasure.


I think if belvidere had seen such a slaughter instead of one at a factory slaughterhouse, her opinions would be very different.

I don't like slaughter. It's not fun. I feel very emotional about providing my animals the best possible life and death. And I would be devastated if I did something wrong while killing an animal, the same way I am devastated when an animal dies of something preventable while in my charge.

But I don't view killing animals for food as wrong. And after the slaughter I am able to go about butchering thankfull for the harvest. I do think some Westerner's reactions to using animals are pretty out there. And the idea that people who participate in this process are robotic killing machines is ridiculous.
posted by melissam at 10:19 AM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


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