It's Been a Slice!

So, I last left you with my reaction to the slaughterhouse.

Ben, an employee of Bob and Laurie’s, took me with him to pick up some buffalo from the ‘Heart Valley Processors’ slaughter facility. Bob had even called ahead and asked the staff to give me a tour.

When we got there I put on my hairnet and rubber boots, and followed Stan – the owner of the plant. He took me through a few offices, the lunchroom, and then unceremoniously opened the door to the ‘Kill Floor.’

It kind of caught me off guard - one minute I’m walking down the hall, and the next I’m perched on a walkway about 4 feet off the floor, watching the workers process a steer. The cows are killed, strung up, and bled - I never realized how much blood there was in a cow. Then the animals are quickly skinned, gutted, inspected, and hung in a cooler for 10-14 days. Organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys are referred to as ‘awfuls’ and are prepared for consumption as well. The animal’s blood can even be saved and turned into ‘blood sausage.’

SRM’s or Severe Risk Materials such as the spinal cord and brain are thrown out to prevent transmission of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis). After that, the employees of Heart Valley cut up the meat according to their customer’s wishes or ship them off to other butcher shops.

I know it may sound gross and cruel to some – to have a job that focuses solely on killing animals and preparing them for humans to eat - but we need people to do it. The reality of meat processing does get a little messy, but it’s still an important part of many people’s daily diets.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a little uncomfortable watching the process! It was a little shocking to see it all go down, and to be so close to the action. But I respect those who do this job, and therefore make it possible for me to enjoy my medium rare steak and pork chops. And as I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s important to know where your food comes from, and how it’s treated. At least now I’ll have a frame of reference when I sit down to the dinner table…

I spent my last day at the Butcher Shop helping wrap beef jerky and pork sausage, and having some good chats with Laurie. When I talked to her and Bob about their likes and dislikes in regards to running the store, both mentioned the variety it brings. When cutting meat, there are so many different animals – cows, sheep, pigs, deer, elk, moose – and so many different ways to prepare them for the customer. Within the industry there are also a lot of different skills to master, whether it’s slaughter, custom cutting, packaging, or customer service. Plus, these skills can easily be put to use in any country in the world, essentially ensuring that a meat cutter will never be out of work.

While packaging, Laurie and I starting talking about the mutual respect between employers and employees that’s so important. Her and Bob talk to their employees the same way they would chat with a customer – always polite and helpful, and never condescending. That’s something huge that I’ve noticed in my work experience – the more respect I have for my employer, the better job I want to do for them.

As far as challenges in the workplace goes, pleasing the public is definitely high on the list, but something Laurie easily takes to. She’s always so welcoming with everyone who comes through the shop, leaving whatever it is she’s doing to personally go out and greet them.

Bob and Laurie often take on high school students to work for them, usually starting them off as cleaners, and then gradually teaching them the skills involved in cutting meat. The things about cleanliness in a butcher shop, is that it’s one of the most important things to be aware of. You can imagine what the shop would smell like if even one piece of meat was left on the floor and started to rot…yick. By giving a student the job of keeping the shop clean is almost a compliment, as well as a testament, to how the team at the shop needs to work together to ensure their continued success. Bob and Laurie know this, and value the work that everyone brings to the table.

Something I found strange, was the meat cutting is no longer considered a skilled trade in the province of Alberta. I’m not sure why this is, because from what I saw these guys are pretty skilled! They can cut up an entire buffalo in the time it takes me to wrap a few packages of jerky!

But at the end of the day, Bob loves being his own boss. The time commitment and monetary investment is large, but he’s making quality meat products that he is very much proud of. (The buffalo jerky is a favorite of mine, and when tasting it warm out of the smoke house it just melts in your mouth!) Laurie says she loves being able to kiss the boss - and as husband and wife, you can see the respect and love they have for each other.

This week surprised me in so many ways...

Growing up I never thought about what went into preparing the hamburgers I ate at picnics or the steak my family enjoyed on special occasions. I thought that a butcher shop would be all hooks, knives, and animal flesh, and instead discovered the real art that it takes to properly prepare meat. I learned how to make sausages, make hamburgers, wrap and price products, and deal with customers. I even started to get good at wrapping beef jerky - right Bob?!

Ben, Bobby, and Tyler – you guys work for some great people, and are amazing at what you do. Thank you so much for letting me tag along and answering all of my questions.

Bob and Laurie – thank you so much for taking me on for a week, and teaching this city-fied country girl the importance of hard work and quality product. I appreciate your patience and kindness, and the care-package you sent with me is definitely being enjoyed!!

I’ll be sure to come back and visit!

And to whoever wants some quality jerky, sausage, hamburger, etc - make the trip to Beaverlodge, Alberta, and visit the Beaverlodge Butcher Shop!

- Amanda