EUGENE, Ore. — Sawing through lamb carcasses isn’t how most people typically spend their Monday nights, but three students recently did just that as part of a class on butchering livestock.
The class was sponsored by the Eugene Meat Collective, whose stated mission is to bring local meat to the public, impact the way people think about their food and build connections within the community.
The most recent class focused on lamb butchery and was taught by Cody Wood, owner of Willamette Valley Lamb, who contributed his animals to the class. Wood reached out to the local collective’s founder, Jonathan Tepperman, to teach after reading about it.
“I thought it was cool what he was doing. I love it when people come out to my farm and I show them how to butcher,” Wood said. “It’s fun to see people connect with food.”
He said butchering is a skill most people don’t have and the classes make for a better-educated consumer. Along with learning the technical skills, the collective also provides recipes to help students learn that there’s a lot they can do with the meat.
“I think Jonathan’s class is brilliant,” Wood said. “People would start out with sausage-making, which is pretty disconnected from a whole lamb carcass, which feels pretty real. I think that’s a brilliant system.”
Tepperman said there’s a squeamishness around meat that doesn’t have to be.
“I want to do a chicken class because people think if you touch a raw chicken you’ll die within 30 seconds if you don’t wash your hands. Yes, you’re not going to want to lick your fingers after, but you can touch it and you can cook with it; as long as you follow the right procedures it’s very safe, and there’s nothing wrong with touching it.”
One of the students, Steve Davey, said he heard about the collective from the local newspaper and he was glad that he took this class.
“I learned to break an animal down and the different cuts of the meat,” he said. “It’s a different appreciation to know what I’m looking for. It’s hard work and tricky to not injure yourself.”
Davey, who works in the roofing industry and is more familiar with fish and preparing sushi, said he will continue to hone his butchery skills until he gains proficiency.
The Eugene Meat Collective was formed by Tepperman in February 2016, and launched through a nonprofit called the Meat Collective Alliance, which has helped communities across the U.S. start collectives. Camas Davis founded the nonprofit as well as the country’s first meat collective in Portland, Ore.
The collectives have extended to outside Oregon. Washington has collectives in Olympia and Seattle, and California has collectives in El Dorado County, San Diego and Southern California. Florida also opened a collective in Gainesville.
“I felt there was a need; I felt there was a general interest in connecting with meat differently,” Tepperman said. “And also for my own selfish reasons, I wanted to learn and deepen my own skills.”
Tepperman, a former vegetarian, wanted to find what he believes is a more sustainable way to eat animals. On his website biography, he said he should be able to hunt, kill, process and cook the meat himself.
The classes include sausage-making and lamb, deer and pig butchering. The students take home a portion of the meat they helped butcher.
Although he said that he’s still on a learning curve, Tepperman wasn’t surprised by the level of interest in the classes because “people from all socio-economic levels and parts of society are interested in eating more sustainable.”
He said students from all walks of life, such as farmers, students, hobbyists, chefs and “back-to-earthers,” have taken the classes.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do is connect farmers with people who would want to buy their animals. My goal is to help the farmers out and the consumers, so they can see a transparent version of what is happening,” Tepperman said. “The third part is working with the butchers in town. To get someone who’s doing it and highlight what they’re doing. I want to showcase what goes into local meat and why there’s value in that.”
Tepperman said he wants the Eugene Meat Collective to develop an interconnected culture and community to create more demand for local meat from local farmers and butchers.
“I’m hoping (the collective) is a bridge bringing in urban people who are disconnected. Surprisingly, a lot of rural people are becoming disconnected from their food as well. Often I get, ‘My father can slaughter or butcher an animal, but I don’t know how to do it,’ so even in rural areas those skills are being lost,” he said. “I feel like I’m here on a mission.”