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Stretched out, the lamb’s body looked like it reached 3 or 4 feet. Gone were the coarse curls and its entire head. It just laid there, deep burgundy muscles kept intact with bones and cartilage, or whatever else holds together a once-living creature. I didn’t witness a slaughter, but a full-on butchering seemed close enough.
Last week, Young & Hungry took meat consumption very seriously. Michael E. Grass dined on muskrat, but after an unappetizing first bite, ditched the rest of the rodent. Nevin Martell detailed a much more appetizing dinner at Eola, thoroughly enjoying tempura-battered pig ears and chicken-fried tongue. But we didn’t just read about pig parts: Y&H readers journeyed through the task of breaking down the animal’s head with Darrow Montgomery‘s graphic photos, somehow turned gorgeous, in gentle black and white.
While some commenters screamed “gross,” even claiming to unsubscribe to the Y&H feed, many found this up close and personal look at meat to be sobering:
As a society, today we are distantly separated from the source of the things we eat. Only two generations ago, this would have been yawn-inducing.
I grew up hunting for and butchering many of my meals, but that puts me in a tiny minority of Americans.
Sometimes I think a backyard lamb slaughtering would do us all some good, reconnecting us to the nature of food.
Which takes me back to my first-hand account of a lamb butchering from late last month.
To reiterate, the lamb laid there on a table in the front of a private room, as I nibbled on canapés of seared lamb heart and lamb tartar with salsa verde, chatting with fellow food writers at an event hosted by the American Lamb Board at Bibiana.
As I stared at the lamb carcass, Nick Stefanelli walked out with a couple of knives and started carving, hacking, slicing, and tearing. I can still hear the pounding of knife on bone as the Bibiana chef expertly slashed and severed the meat into edible pieces.
As the butchering continued, so did the passing of lamb sausage served on silver spoons. I couldn’t believe they still served lamb as we watched the spectacle up in front.
But this was not only performance art—it was educational. Craig Rogers, a sheep farmer from Virginia’s Border Springs Farm, explained the nuances of diet and how different types of grass produce different tasting meat. When Stefanelli rubbed his fingers through the rib cage, the farmer joked:
This is what separates lamb from those burly cows. Look how sexy those bones are. There’s nothing that sexy on a cow.
We all laughed. We had to. Or at least I did. I couldn’t keep thinking about the seriousness of the moment because in only a few more minutes I would start dinner and eat three (delicious) courses of lamb.
Is it right to eat animals? I know what Jonathan Safer Foer would say. But I hadn’t made up my mind yet. But when chefs take such care to respect animals, I’m willing to keep considering the thought.
First photo by Darrow Montgomery. Bottom photo of Nick Stefanelli and Craig Rogers courtesy of Michael Birchenall. You can also view Birchenall’s video of the lamb butchering.