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Indeed, the lady knows her way around a carcass. Once a week a full cow (minus the head) is delivered to the shop from one of their grass-fed farm suppliers in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Sara took me on a tour of the bovine anatomy, explaining with the ease of a veteran the different cuts of beef that come from each part of the cow. "It's not a terribly tough thing to learn," she said with genuine modesty. "You can always be better, faster." When asked if there was anything she was still squeamish about handling, she had to think for a moment before she described the process for extracting guanciale—cured pork gel that comes from a pig's jowls: The traditional Italian method of gaining access to it is to "suck the eyes out" (which she doesn't do).
The walk-in at the Meat Hook is a chilly house of horrors, but it's meticulously organized and squeaky clean. "I would rather eat less meat," Sara said, later clarifying that she meant she'd prefer to eat smaller quantities of higher quality meat than larger amounts of cheap product—not that she had any reservations about meat consumption in general (which is how it initially came across). "It sounds snobby, but I feel like I can happily do without if it means feeling good about what I'm eating, and having it taste better." This echoes what she described as the mission of the Meat Hook: "To provide high quality products that are accessible to everybody." Everybody who can afford to pay $7.99 a pound for bone-in pork shoulder, that is.
Sara Bigelow, Girl Butcher
From the summer of 2009 until she was hired full-time in March, Bigelow kept her job at the Thomas Collective, coming in on her days and evenings off for regular seven-day workweeks. The grueling schedule would have been enough to repel anyone who wasn't completely sold on the new endeavor. She describes the time spent getting her feet wet with nary a grievance, playing up instead her good fortune of having weekends off now. And she's not carrying any resentment towards those people in her life (her Mexican grandmother, in particular) who were less than supportive in the beginning, or the shops that turned her away. "You stand for 12 hours a day, lifting heavy things, and when you go home you smell like pig intestines and bacon and blood. There are hours of more tedious manual labor and customer service to the minutes of cutting you get to do. So I can see why someone who was in that position would look at me, a young woman coming in on her days off from an office job, and wonder where I got the idea and if I had any clue what it really entailed."