Meet Rebecca – The female butcher from Brooklyn, New York
Rebecca Brooks is the only full-time female butcher at Forager’s Market, a nose to tail butcher shop in Brooklyn, New York, and one of a scant 24.6% of butchers who are women in the US. But she is cranking out 45 pounds of sausage a week and showing that skill and technique are key to a butcher’s work.
Brooks is the only full-time female butcher at Forager’s Market, a nose to tail butcher shop in Brooklyn, New York. In general, lady butchers are a minority in the butcher industry — a scant 24.6% of butchers are women, according to a 2010 analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit that advocates for women’s rights. Butchers and meat cutters are considered “nontraditional occupations” for women, alongside other male-dominated jobs like police, lawyers, engineers and firefighters, according to the center.
But when it comes to butchering, gender is irrelevant, save for the most physically demanding parts of the job. “I only am kind of conscious that I’m a woman when we need to bring pigs in,” Brooks said. “I can’t carry a side of pork by myself, and that’s the gold standard.” But as her co-worker reminds her: “That’s just strength, it’s not a skill.”
Skill and technique are key to a butcher’s work.
Brooks wasn’t born with a knife in hand or a desire to pursue butchering. After majoring in English at Tulane University in New Orleans, she took a job in media sales. But meat — grilled, baked, cured, roasted and all its other iterations — called to Brooks. Growing up in Wisconsin, she would savor grilled steaks with her dad, a passionate home cook who loved organizing menus and grilling. “Every meal, there’s going to be a meat feature,” Brooks said of dining with her father. “In college, when I was cooking more for myself for the first time, I began to wonder what it means to buy a ribeye, where my beef comes from …”
Itching to leave her media job, she challenged herself to secure a meat-related gig by June 2016. Through a Google search, she found and applied for a program in Italy and was later accepted for a butcher internship at Spannocchia – a working farm that hosts a handful of farm interns for seasonal sessions.
Thus began her foray into butchering and curing meats. For three months, she worked as a butcher’s apprentice whose responsibilities included everything from herding pigs into a slaughterhouse at 5 am and butchering the animals to tying the proper knots to cure prosciutto and other salumi.
Like many hoping for a fresh start and new job opportunities, she then set her sights on relocating to New York City. The night before she moved to New York, she applied to the Forager’s job she saw on Craigslist — and the company offered her the job within three days. “It was super lucky,” Brooks said. “I’m so much happier than I used to be.” She points to a few downsides — like the fact that many Tinder matches make groan-worthy meat puns in their messages to her — but not many others.
And then there are the fringe benefits like not having to grocery shop and getting to enjoy lots of meat snacks. She’s also feeling physically stronger, especially her right forearm, thumb and forefinger. “The bone saw really gets you in shape,” she said. Sharp knives mean greater risk for injury compared to your average desk job, though. Brooks once cut herself when chopping rosemary while using a dull chef’s knife. “I cleaned myself up, came back and then fainted. It was damn embarrassing,” she said.
Next on her agenda? Adding to her knife collection, visiting area farms and experimenting with charcoal and smoke in meat preparation are a few short-term goals. “Most of all, though, I want to be able to lift and carry sides of pork by my damn self,” Brooks said.
Next fall, she intends to revisit the agritourism farm in Tuscany. While she worked as an apprentice, she prepared legs of prosciutto that take years to cure, so the legs she worked on will finally be ready for consumption.
By Alex Orlov