These days, I hear, every twenty-something in Brooklyn runs his own abattoir. Everyone knows his primal cuts. One out of every six has learned at the knee of a master butcher how to "fabricate" a rib roast and disjoint a rabbit. One in ten has written a terrible memoir on the subject. But once upon a time, these were all dark mysteries.
Many years ago, in that less enlightened era, I worked as a sub-sub-contractor on a series of interactive educational CD-ROMs that ConAgra, the vast multinational food conglomerate, put out for their meat distributor clients. It was an intriguing glimpse into the middle stages of the industrial process. The primary audience for these CDs consisted of:
- the people who sell the meat to the people
- who only later cut it up into the pieces of the size that people like you actually
- take home and eat.
...all from a thoroughly agribusiness point of view, and with no expectation that the viewer would need to learn how to do anything with the meat him- or herself. He or she just had to know all about what other people had done or could do with it.
I've found a reference to the series on the website of one of the contractors much higher up the stream than I was:
D-Cypher Productions played an instrumental role in the development and success of ConAgra Beef Company's revolutionary "Beef 101" interactive CD-ROM program. Doug's video capture, editing and creative talent provided the base for the CD series, and considerably enhanced the creative concept and design of the programs. Over 20,000 copies of the 4-disc set are in circulation, and have received industry-wide acclaim.
The CDs were actually very well designed and impressive, for what they were: interactive collections of far more information than I ever imagined wanting to know about different cuts of meat, meat storage safety, serving suggestions ("This cut is suitable for roasting, grilling, and institutional use," the very deadpan and professional voiceover advised), pricing schemes, and "fabrication," which as you are no doubt aware but was, I think, less common knowledge then, is the industry term for just how a given cut of meat is removed from the dead animal as a whole.
There were many Quicktime videos of white-coated men carving up large pieces of meat. One of my tasks on the project was QA, which involved watching each video many times. It was a strange job for a vegetarian, and I wished many times that I was a video artist, that I might steal the material and do something fascinating with it.
Little did I know that ten years later I'd think it would have been sufficiently fascinating just to "post" it on "youtube". What a missed opportunity. I apologize. Still, if you want a further window onto this particular past, you can see some pretty fantastic highlights in the screenshots here.