There’s a tremendous beauty in the English language. We, unlike some of our European neighbours, have been blessed with an abundant tongue based on rich, ancient foundations. We have an instrument of expression that when used correctly can work incredible magic. Words can make us fall in love, do things we don’t want to do, create mental pictures or even stir up emotions we didn’t even know existed. There is power in words and yet we are often lazy, assuming that some subjects don’t deserve a richer word currency. Sad to say, recent recruitment advertising that I have seen for butchers is a perfect example. It looks like there are openings for apprentice butchers in many parts of Ireland which is great news, including my own business, exposing the fact that there is not a lack of jobs in the industry, but a lack of skills. However looking at the distinctly dull and lifeless call to arms, I can see many approaching just because there’s a paying job at the end of it. I caution that a paying job is never a good driving factor for a life in this world.
While the word ‘passion’ is often bandied about and overused these days it should be fully applied to butchers. I want people with an ardent interest in the area to come forward to fill any positions I may have or take up any training programmes we create. I want those bordering on the obsessive because then and only then will we have a chance at creating a healthy legacy. On that note, I am often asked if “I minded taking over the family business”! It always amazes me that anyone would think I was obligated or forced in some way to follow in my father’s footsteps. I genuinely loved every part of the business. I had butchery in my blood and for me it was a natural step. I was simply fulfilling my purpose and calling and while I’m thankful that I have such a strong ancestral link to raising stock for food and this noble craft, I firmly believe that it would have been my perfect job had I been the very first in my line to become a butcher.
Many people miss the fundamental reasons someone might want to take up this trade. I often find myself standing at a fence in the dew drenched, quiet early mornings, marvelling at the wonder of the animals I rear and the link they provide between us and the land. While I take great care in raising them and enjoy their inherent, melancholic majesty, I am also starkly aware of their ultimate upcoming sacrifice. These gracious, primal mammals provide us with food that keeps us healthy and makes us strong. I fully acknowledge the responsibility of ensuring that we make the most of such selfless surrender. As a butcher it is up to me to find out everything I can about the animal and the nourishment it can provide. I am responsible for making sure that every part of the animal that is a source of nourishment can be used as such. It is up to me to know how to cook any cut of meat, nose to tail including the bones, and to have personal experience of that so I can pass it on – that is a calling, a purpose and so much more than just a job. It is in this kind of thinking that one finds the joy.
Besides the cerebral there is also the physical. Part of the work of a butcher is not pretty. It is bloody, heavy and serious work. That neatly tied, attractive little package or the dark red fillet of steak that makes eyes at you from behind the gleaming glass of a butcher’s counter was once part of a large and wieldy carcass that required a deft combination of skill and art to bring it to such an aesthetic end. I can recall many days in the slaughterhouse where I emerged after ridiculously long hours of carrying, carving and cutting spent and exhausted. I often imagined a crowd outside that steel door just waiting to celebrate and applaud my wondrous achievements of turning the gory and slightly macabre into things of beauty that people enjoyed bringing to their kitchens. Of course the brass band and the cheering crowds only existed in my head as few people picking up a Sunday roast truly appreciate where it has come from. It is worth remarking that we are particularly unaware of this in Ireland. In France you will notice that a skilled butcher or baker is something to be celebrated and indeed treasured by the community. In Ireland sometimes the job of butcher or baker don’t have the craft recognition they deserve. Hence the dull recruitment ads that include uninspiring sentences such as “Trimming excess fat off meat and finishing to customer specifications will be required”. Where is the art and the craft, the nourishment, the acknowledgement of the ability to butcher an animal and provide real nutritious food that promotes life? Where is the fun? Where is the joy?
We must also remember that many of our human rituals are based around and linked to food. The food providers in our lives are vital. Being a butcher is more than just a job. There has to be an appreciation of the intrinsic nature of the work and what you are really doing rather than the soul less single minded goal of a pay packet. This is the only way to happiness and a fulfilling career in any walk of life.
At James Whelan Butchers we do provide an 18 month programme with an accredited FETAC qualification on completion. We only create the very best butchers that will carry our signature of excellence into the industry. We want the passionate and enthusiastic so if you or someone you know is interested they can contact us via the website or firstname.lastname@example.org.