Make Way for the Lady Butchers
Make Way for the Lady Butchers
Butchery is still considered a business of brawn, where big-muscled men sling enormous slabs of meat around; where they carve up beasts in cold back rooms.
It is a brawny business, yes. A person has to be very strong and fit to handle such heavy meats, but it is no longer a men-only club. More and more women are now banging on the door to get in, and some are even being let in.
To be clear, butchery is most definitely still a male-dominated profession. Sightly less then 25% of full-time butchers or meat handlers are women, and this includes the broad classification of butchers—everything from the simple, bare bones meat cutter at your local Stop and Shop to the artisenal farm-to-table butcher offering classes in the fine art of butchering a cow. That statistic, from a study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center, is already a decade old, and it would be interesting to see what the percentage is in 2021. The inroads appear to be slow, but steady, as an increasing number of women take a cleaver to a carcass. We’d like to spotlight a few:
Kate Stillman calls herself a FarmHer. In 2006, she started SQM, a livestock farm and butchery in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Stillman was born and raised on a farm, and provides meats, including beef, from pasture-raised animals. “I believe that good meat is not manufactured or produced- It’s raised,” says Stillman.
Julia Poplawsky is cofounder of the Central Texas Meat Collective in Austin and got her inspiration from meat collective pioneer Camas Davis. Poplawsky, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, stands a mere 5’2”, though her petite frame has not posed a disadvantage when it comes to cutting. “I fell in love with the physical task of meat cutting,” Poplawsky told the Huffington Post in a 2019 interview. It’s like solving a puzzle using muscle memory.”
Tia Harrison is no longer a practicing butcher, per se, but she’s still deeply involved in butchery as president and CEO of the Butcher’s Guild. In 2007, she cofounded with two other women what is believed to be the first female-owned butcher shop in America. Harrison is now the executive chef and co-owner of Sociale Restaurant in San Francisco. "I've seen a lot of women take up the trade in the last 10 years, and a lot of women open their own butcher shops, and a lot of women lead the conversation in butchery through co-ops, through writing books and leading meat camps and even starting their own schools,” Harrison said in an interview with Martha Stewart magazine.
Cindy Garcia graduated from UC Davis in 2014 and when she was an entering freshman, she never imagined she would emerge as a butcher. Her plan out of high school was to become a vet, and Garcia had even worked at a vet clinic through her teens. But the first class she signed up for was part of the UC Davis Meat Lab, and it changed the course of her life. “My first class was a lamb slaughter. As soon as it started happening, I was, like, ‘What am I doing here?,’” Garcia told the UC Davis alumni magazine. “But then, once it was done, it started clicking. This has to happen for me to eat.”
In 2019, Garcia appeared on the History Channel’s show The Butcher, placing third. That same year, she was slated to be the first woman to represent the United States at the 2020 World Butchers' Challenge, but the competition has been postponed until 2022.