I couldn’t say no when, a few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to head out to Fleisher’s new warehouse space in Red Hook. It’s right on the water, and from the building’s glass front doors you can look out onto the Hudson River with its little ice floes and brave ducks paddling beneath the pier.
With me inside those glass doors were four students of diverse backgrounds, two professional butchers and one big walk-in refrigerator full of meat hooks. On those meat hooks were lambs and sides of pigs and quarters of an enormous steer. We were all there for Fleisher’s 3-day Butchery 101 course.
Fleisher’s is a unique sort of butcher shop that is known for its commitment to responsible and sustainable carnivorism; they make an effort to know the Hudson Valley farmers with whom they work, and they mandate a certain quality of life for the animals they butcher and sell in their Park Slope storefront. They use and offer every part of the animals: from the leaf lard that comes from the bellies of the hogs (which they render) to the pigs’ ears, which they dry and sell as dog treats. Nothing goes to waste, and as a result, the lives of the animals really do seem to be deeply valued — a refreshing departure from the factory farms that have long been getting due attention for being cruel and unusual.
But here’s a twist: I am a stalwart and enthusiastic vegetarian for largely ethical reasons. (I was also the only vegetarian taking the Butchery 101 class that weekend — not a surprise). Even still, I came out of it with a real respect for the meat I worked with and for the small-scale butchery trade. I was genuinely excited to feed my friends the sausages I had stuffed with the pork that I had broken down from half a hog — even as I remained a vegetarian myself.
Think of these photos as a peek into my experience. Keep your eye out for the full story, which we’ll post soon!