The 12 Year Old Lahham

12 year old butcher

(Just a note: This post contains a somewhat graphic image of meat being prepared which some folks might not wish to view. For that reason, I’ve placed it after the jump and near the end of the post so you don’t have to see it. If images like that are challenging to you, I recommend that you don’t scroll further and perhaps that you not read this post. As regular readers know, I share and aim to respect diverse cultural and gastronomic issues, and am presenting this aspect of life in rural Lebanon because I was fascinated watching his talent and skill. That said, I promise the next post will be about Lebanese pastries : ) -dl)

I’m not sure what concerned me more; watching a sheep being slaughtered for dinner, or finding out that a 12 year old boy would be preparing the meat, beginning with him being the one to do the first, swift act of putting the animal down. Although I was a vegetarian for a while, I eat meat now. And I spent the majority of my career cooking in a restaurant that was one of the pioneering supporters of small farms, local producers, and raising food humanely. So I’m not one of those people who needs to see each and every aspect of how the food I eat is prepared. Just like I believe in brain surgery, I don’t need to witness it to appreciate the skill that goes into it.

Still, I was considering the week before the meal whether I should watch the whole process, including the beginning, because I had never seen that before. Later in the week, when we were out in the hills of Ayoun, where preparing food this way has been a natural part of their life for centuries, I saw the lahham (butcher), a 12 year old who had been trained in his father’s craft. For a moment, I reached back to think about what I was doing when I was twelve years old, and was a little embarrassed that my skills were limited to listening to Partridge Family albums, playing tv tag, and constructing a makeshift boat with friends that was intended to carry us triumphantly down the local stream. (It sank with us on it in a few feet of water as soon as we pushed ourselves away from land.)

This young jazzar was a compact dynamo. I’ve worked with a lot of chefs who possessed various degrees of bravado, and when this kid took one of the knives out of his sheath to sharpen it, I immediately could assess his skill because he moved with remarkable confidence and precision. It made a number of the great cooks and chefs I worked with look like amateurs. And I don’t mean that as any offense to friends and former co-workers; I felt like a nitwit in the little fella’s presence, too.

I ended up not watching the initial act, but did watch him expertly break the parts of the fat-tailed sheep down, working methodically. I was stunned to see how cleanly and quickly he put all the various pieces in their place, including cutting and trimming the meat and lieh (fat) into cubes for kebabs, which my Lebanese friends insisted I try raw.

lamb skewers

Like watching part-one of our dinner, I wasn’t convinced my life would change if I declined a cube of lamb fat, no matter how much they were smacking their lips and suggesting I was missing something fabulous (some non-Lebanese folks tasted it, and weren’t as convincing.) And I was glad I didn’t fill up on raw fat because the kababs that were grilled – and the cubes of browned, crusty fat that were skewered between the meat – were some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted. It was so good I ate three kebabs, which we rolled up in locally made saj.

A while back, a journalist friend wrote about children who work and she reminded me that in a lot of cultures, youngsters help out on farms and work with their families in other ways. And it made me think about many bakers in France who choose their line of work early on, so they head into pastry kitchens in their early teens, rather than engaging in more formal education. (Chocolatier Jacques Genin worked in an abattoir when he was 12 years old, before moving on to become a master of pastry and chocolate.) And from the look of the older men from the area watching him, they were impressed by his skills as much as I was.

twelve year old butcher

My take is that this kid has a bright future although I’m not sure raw lamb fat is going to be all that popular with an international audience. So who knows? Maybe next time I’m in Lebanon, I’ll be sampling chocolates and caramels from a young pastry talent that we discovered.

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  • April 20, 2013 11:22am

    Great photos in several senses – and a paticularly interesting blog.
    The “gulp” factor you describe reminds me of seeing, inadvertently, a dog being dispatched in a market in China.

  • April 20, 2013 12:16pm

    Quite a fascinating post:) I don’t eat meat but still found your post fascinating!

  • berit
    April 20, 2013 12:52pm

    From your initial comment I thought “OMG who knows what he will shows us” but this is just a kid skinning a lamb. Do people really get worked up about this?

  • ClaireD
    April 20, 2013 1:59pm

    I think people who eat meat, and I am one, need to see where their meat comes from. In recent years I have only eaten meat raised and processed by humane growers because I feel that I need to respect the life of the animal that gives its life to feed me. The young man in this post has a skill and you were very chaste in what you showed. We in America are so far removed from where our food begins it’s trip to our tables. That pack of hamburger you bought at the supermarket didn’t originate on that styrofoam rectangle. Thanks for this post, David.

  • April 20, 2013 2:36pm

    As ClaireD said, most of us are very far removed from where the proteins sold in supermarkets come from. I recall similar scenes on my grandparent’s farm in the Tarn region in the South of France when my uncle would prepare a lamb raised on the farm for a special meal. Thanks for a very good post.

  • Anna
    April 20, 2013 2:52pm

    I have always believed that witnessing the butchering process is important in helping us respect our food and being conscious of our choices. As North Americans we are far too removed from the reality of the origins of our food. Perhaps we wouldn’t be so nonchalant and wasteful if we understood all that goes into it, including life.

  • Chris Gutwein
    April 20, 2013 2:53pm

    I was also a vegetarian for most of my adult life but recently have begun to add meat,occasionally, to my diet. This is a personal choice that allows me to feel less restricted and more open to change. There are so many documentaries on the ethical practices of farming and raising animals for consumption that a well-informed public can more easily support this necessary change to a corrupt industry. I agree with others that folks need to know the full story of how their hamburger ended up on that styrofoam. Your post was respectful of a centuries old custom. As always, thanks for keeping it real!

    • April 20, 2013 5:44pm
      David Lebovitz

      I stopped being a vegetarian because I was craving a corned beef sandwich (!) – and someone said to me, “If you’re really craving something, you should have it because that means your body needs it.” Am not sure anyone “needs” a corned beef sandwich, but I think I remember it tasting pretty good ; )

      However I don’t eat a huge amount of meat, especially beef. But this lamb was pretty amazing.

  • Susan
    April 20, 2013 4:08pm

    For the non-squeamish, there’s footage of this process in the recent documentary “Kurdish Lover”, made by a French woman who with her partner visits his family’s village in a Kurdish part of Turkey. The family offers portions of the meat to other families in the village, and you get a sense of how this sharing is part of communal life and of respect for the life-giving properties of the animal. (some of the footage is quite graphic, so be warned)

  • April 20, 2013 4:10pm

    My friend recently came back from Africa, where she killed a goat because she wanted to eat the goat. At first I balked, but really the way she killed the goat was more humane than it being killed on a factory farm type thing. And enabled her to be as close to the food she was eating as possible. Although I don’t think thats for everyone, I do agree that really knowing where you food really comes from is important. Also this boys skills are impressive! He looks so much smaller than the lamb itself.

  • April 20, 2013 5:04pm

    When I read “scroll” I was like, oh this will be silence of the lambs-style (ie., blood bloody bloodier). If these pics can be offensive to meat-eaters, then I don’t really want to know what would make people blow a fuse.

    • April 20, 2013 5:42pm
      David Lebovitz

      I assume that there are a number of vegetarians who read the site who might find the last image a bit graphic, but perhaps I was being overly cautious. I did take a number of others shots of him working, which was pretty amazing. But some showed quite a bit more –

      • April 21, 2013 12:52am

        Well, perhaps I didn’t factor in that vegetarians reading this site would find these kinds of pics sort of, well, disturbing. To me, it’s just an intrinsic part of being a meat eater. Yes, I did appreciate the absence of before and after-pics (as in living lamb just before slaughter and here is dead lamb after slaughter), and the less blood the better. Still, I echo what others have written, I believe it to be important to know where your food comes from, or more to the point in the case of meat, WHAT you are eating. The chicken on the dinner plate didn’t come out of the vegetable patch, it was chirping around a few days ago (I buy free-range just for that simple fact of wanting to know that the chickens were chirping and not climbing over each other in tiny tiny pens). I have friends who got into charcuterie a few years ago and they raise their own pigs. Seeing the whole process, from piglet to finished sausage, was a sobering experience. I eat far less meat now.

        I bet that close to none of the meat (offal and all) that came off that lamb was squandered.

  • Heather
    April 20, 2013 5:09pm

    I was glad that you posted this. Last year I decided that, out of respect for the animals who feed me, I would raise, kill, and prepare some meat for myself. I chose meat chickens as best suited to a city backyard. The project was highly successful except for the self-righteous outcry from people who thought that only natural viciousness would enable me to do such a thing. Of note, some of them were chowing down on my delicious and humanely raised chicken throughout their protest. Get real, folks. And if you want to see real viciousness, visit a factory chicken operation where the chicken in American supermarkets comes from. Except that you wouldn’t be allowed to visit, because they are well aware of how horrified consumers would be.

    • April 20, 2013 5:40pm
      David Lebovitz

      I didn’t feel is necessary to watch the kill, but I did see a program here on how chickens are raised (Video) and it was really grim. I know that the UK has banned eggs from chickens in tight cages as a result of similar conditions.

  • April 20, 2013 5:28pm

    Growing up, and still living, in a country (argentina) where time spent on countryside farms involved eating for lunch the lamb or pig or cow that was grazing placidly days or mere hours before, I know that very young boys are taught what they will, allegedly, have to do for their families later.
    I guess it´s like a language or any skill, the younger you learn it, the better you´ll probably be at it.

    • April 20, 2013 5:33pm
      David Lebovitz

      I haven’t seen a more serious 12 year old in – well, I don’t know how long. I guess when you live out in the countryside, away from modern conveniences, life is simpler and more about getting by and feeding yourself and others.

      On a side note, interesting you mentioned about younger people learning a language – most foreign shows on French television are dubbed into French, and some think that’s really preventing a lot of young people from learning English better. So many Europeans are multi-lingual, and it’s really a lifelong skill that’s easier to learn when young.

  • Christina
    April 20, 2013 5:31pm

    Such an interesting and important post! Thanks, David. I second all that ClairD said, and I would like to add that this 12 y/o shows us some important things about the process of education and how much we have lost by keeping our children(in the USA) so naive and dependent for so long. I am really enjoying your posts from Lebanon, and thank you for them.

  • April 20, 2013 5:44pm

    Compared to Anissa Helou ‘s blog your pictures are pretty tame ;-)
    I have acquaintances who’ve told me they enjoy meat as long as it doesn’t look like an animal. That seems to me a bit immature and irresponsible. Consumers should want to know the origins of their food to be able make intelligent decisions on what they eat.

    As far as the child butcher, it’s good he’s learning a trade and otherwise helping out. Now 12 year olds are all facebooked out. When I visited Caribou, Maine as a kid I met a girl my age who told me that in September they had no school- they were all at the potato harvest. I’d be surprised if they still do that.

  • John Schnick
    April 20, 2013 5:55pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. Growing up on an Arkansas farm in the 1950’s, I learned to feed, doctor, slaughter, and butcher chickens, hogs, and the occasional beef. Hog-killing time, in the fall was always my favorite. Pretty exciting, and the cracklings were a treat. The smokehouse emitted wonderful aromas, and in a few days we would eat bacon, ham, and sausage. although my daughter Susannah grew up in Berkeley, she is now a butcher and Charcutier (Charcuteuse?)
    I love it when meat eaters learn about their food’s origions.

  • Brenda
    April 20, 2013 6:01pm

    I liked this post too because it is honest and I don’t there is anything objectionable about it. What a mature young man he is. The animal didn’t suffer and wasn’t stressed and probably had a good life.

    I never lived on a farm, have only visited a few in my lifetime, but I respect those who work on them and appreciate their hard work. I too now only buy from sources where animals have been humanely treated, and I eat less meat but enjoy it more.

  • Darlynne
    April 20, 2013 6:08pm

    I want to add my voice to ClaireD’s and others about the importance of understanding and recognizing how food arrives at our tables. We made the decision to buy only sustainable, locally-raised and, yes, I’ll say it, humanely slaughtered meat. That means we eat a whole lot less of it because it’s so expensive, but feel it’s imperative to support local ranchers and processors. Thank you, David, for an informative and enlightening article.

  • April 20, 2013 6:12pm

    David I think the most shocking part of this post was finding out you used to be a vegetarian O_O

    Also when Jamie Oliver did that show where he toured around Italy he witnessed a similar scene, the Italian family he was staying with went out and slaughtered the animal they were going to eat for dinner and the little kids were running around the skinned animal completely unfazed. Looks shocking but it is so much more humane to have properly raised and fed the animal you are going to consume. We have completely divorced the neat little packages of plastic wrapped meat we find in supermarkets with their original live forms and what it takes to turn one into the other.

  • marie
    April 20, 2013 6:12pm

    Ah ces pays orientaux!!! Syrie, Turquie, Liban une viande excellente et des bouchers hors pair… Et par dessus le marché un accueil inoubliable..

  • Joe Kurley
    April 20, 2013 6:13pm

    Very interesting. I grew up rural Connecticut and at 12 (1950’s) was in the 4-H raising cows and chickens. Spent many hours killing, cleaning, selling chickens to family’s in the local area. My only audience was my grandfather (born 1881 in Poland) sitting on a bench smoking a hand rolled cigarette telling me stories of his growing up on a farm in his native country. I never considered the skills that I had along with other 4-H’ers unique.

  • Walter Collins
    April 20, 2013 6:31pm

    Interesting column. I grew up in Alabama in the early 50’s. My uncle slaughtered and cleaned hogs and cows for other farmers. He smoked his own hams and made and smoked his own sausage in a “smoke house” in my grandmother’s back yard. It’s what we ate all winter. BTW my grandmother was still killing and cleaning her own chickens in her 70’s. It was a way of life.
    My 1st experience was when I was on Spring Break in the 2nd Grade. My uncle took me with him to slaughter some hogs. It was an interesting experience and (surprise) did not mar me for life. When he strung up the carcass, he showed me all of the various parts and how to butcher them. When I returned to school the next week and our teacher asked us to draw a picture of what we did on Spring Break. You got it, I drew a picture of a strung up hog and labeled all of its parts. I can only imagine the stories she told in the teacher’s lounge that day.
    And yes, I still love meat of all cuts and kinds.

  • Laura
    April 20, 2013 6:41pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. While I have never done this work myself I grew up with a father who was raised on a farm and quite familiar. Anything killed hunting was done so for the purpose of meal and not trophy. The way in which he handled the meat and cooking gave me great respect for the process and food and sent me on a search to learn about cooking around the world and landed me as a line cook in restaurant kitchens. It bothers me to no end when I see cooking shows on TV where the food is not handled with respect. On the other hand it pleases me to see that they trade and skill of butchery is passed on to a new generation. Thank you David.


  • Sharon Blake
    April 20, 2013 7:15pm

    My father raised chickens and pigeons and was a great fly-fisherman and bird hunter. From my earliest days I watched him cut the heads off poultry in our backyard (he had a special slaughtering stump), and clean the salmon, steelhead, abalone, quail, pheasant he killed in our kitchen sink. It was just how things were and I never questioned it. I well remember the anatomy lessons he’d give me as he methodically disassembled the animal. I admired him greatly.

  • dafri estes
    April 20, 2013 7:24pm

    Quote from W.C.Fields: “Vegetarian: an old Indian word for bad hunter.”

  • April 20, 2013 9:38pm

    I am definitely with those who have commented that meat-eaters should definitely be aware of the whole slaughter/ butchery process. I am a former vegan, but am surprisingly unsqueamish about the realities of eating meat. If we are going to eat meat, we do need to get involved– knowing what kind of life our food has lived, and ensuring that we are not participating in a cruel enterprise.

    For those who would like to see more, I did a pictorial post about breaking down a pig with my English butcher.

  • Sarahb1313
    April 20, 2013 10:40pm

    I am on the squeemish side. I try not to think about to much when I am deboning a lamb or pork leg or working with a whole chicken. My mom used to make the (supermarket) chickens dance and sing before she would work them into the meal.

    So I am just grateful that someone else is willing to do the deed so I can enjoying deliscious meats.

    How fabulous the fresh meat must have been!

  • April 20, 2013 11:36pm

    This is a remarkable stroy, and I admire how you’ve handled the lahham and your readers’ potential sensitivities, David. My mouth is watering thinking of this very freshest lamb one could ever hope to eat. My father and his brothers, sons of a Lebanese butcher who immigrated to the U.S. in the early part of the last century, always tasted their meat raw before cooking it. They wrapped it, with a slice of sweet raw onion, in a piece of chewy flat bread, which is precisely how we eat our raw kibbeh (kibbeh nayeh). Come to think of it, that’s how we eat virtually everything, wrapped in the bread. It’s so good we even eat the bread wrapped in the bread….

  • Joan Browne
    April 20, 2013 11:43pm

    I’ve been wrestling with this issue lately- finding the concept of taking life increasingly difficult to deal with but wanting to stay omnivorous. I’ve been to a chicken processing facility, watched some poor guy slit throats and hang the dying birds by their feet on a conveyer belt. Although this was decades ago the memory is sharp and I’ve often wondered how long a job like that could be tolerable. Another time I hid in the closet with my hands over my ears while my boyfriend cut off our turkey’s head, but I found the rest pretty tolerable: cleaning, plucking, cooking I could do easily and it was the best turkey ever. I keep telling myself that our evolutionary heritage is heavy on meat eating and if survival was more iffy than it currently is for most of us we wouldn’t be worrying about any of this. And heck, in more recent Judeo-Christian history, I’ve been reading the Old Testament and what with all the slaying of animals on nearly every page I’m surprised there were any herds and flocks left. The bottom line is most humans like eating meat. When survival isn’t a huge issue and we have more leisure to contemplate spiritual matters we get hung up. Not living close to the land reduces our exposure to the facts of life and that comlicates things as well. So the choice seems: live a spiritual life, maybe as a Buddhist, and not eat meat, or embrace being part of the whole food chain with all the guts and blood- keeping in mind that carnitine is bad for us.

    On another note, there is some thinking that all the problems teenagers face is a result of the fact that they are excluded from meaningful economic activity way too long. A twelve year old butcher is probably leading a more psychologically healthy life than a kid playing soccer, taking SATs, and being class president.

  • Johanna
    April 20, 2013 11:49pm

    i loved this post. keep it up.

  • Yonatan Shaked
    April 20, 2013 11:54pm

    Hi David,
    I lived with Bedouins for two years (here in Israel) and I can tell you that the first (and last) time that I saw the “initial act” namely the slaughtering my stomach turned and I almost threw up it was so awful.
    Probably, like with the Bedouins here, the sheep go out to pasture daily in that part of Lebanon which is probably why the meat is so delicious.
    I wonder if you tried Mansaf? It’s cooked in a strong flavoured yogurt, served on flat bread and garnished with pine-nuts.
    Or maybe Maqluba? It means upside-down and is served with rice and vegetables.
    This sounds like a wonderful trip you are having.
    Best regards,

  • Sasha
    April 21, 2013 1:03am

    I’ve been wanting to visit Lebanon for some time. I’ve enjoyed your posts immensely.

  • April 21, 2013 2:59am

    The photo may be graphic, but it has more soul than a shot of a kid buying frozen ground meat in a supermarket! I didn’t know about this custom of eating raw lamb fat, but it’s not that different from enjoying raw beef in preparations like carpaccio and tartare, which are very popular in Italy (where I am from).

  • Judy (microbes)
    April 21, 2013 3:01am

    I’ve often thought that if I had to prepare (kill) my own meat, I’d be a vegetarian. I can vividly remember in childhood my mother and grandmother killing chickens by either wringing their necks or chopping the head off with an axe. The chicken’s body would then jump around the yard a bit. The past few years I’ve liked meat less and less. Most of the time I’d rather eat vegetables and beans. I’m unfortunately allergic to dairy, which is what I’d really prefer to eat. Thanks for doing this blog; it’s really fascinating.

  • jo
    April 21, 2013 4:43am

    We’re barbecueing up some lahhem kebabs now as I type this. Our family Sunday lunches aren’t complete without the meat and white onion skewers. delish! glad to see you enjoyed them David :)

  • April 21, 2013 6:01am

    hmmm very interesting. part of me worries a bit about child labor, the other part of me wishes i’d learned and perfected a valuable skill so young…

  • oinkoink
    April 21, 2013 8:44am

    I am no linguist, but the most interesting thing about this post and the comments is the striking dichotomy in the language used by posters.

    The first class of posters are those who have grown up on farms or have slaughtered animals for food. Active, direct sentences prevail: ‘My uncle slaughtered and cleaned hogs and cows for other farmers’; ‘I learned to feed, doctor, slaughter, and butcher chickens, hogs, and the occasional beef”, and ‘Spent many hours killing, cleaning, selling chickens to family’s in the local area. ‘

    The second class of posters are those who purchase meat at supermarkets, but who still profess a desire that animals should be treated humanely and that those who eat meat should understand its provenance. In this case, vague, circuitous language reveals the discomfort of the posters and the way that they detach or abstract themselves from the reality of killing animals for food. For example: rather than simply describing the slaughtering of the lamb in terms of the subject (boy) and verb (kill), David chose ‘the whole process, including the beginning’ and ‘the initial act’, but is far more direct when describing everything else that the boy did; cattle are not killed, but are instead ‘processed’, with all its comfortingly sterile connotations; their status as living entities is reduced in the most utilitarian terms by references to them as ‘the protein’; references are generally to final products – ‘meat’ or ‘food’ – rather than the animals and killing; etc.

    A lack of teachers in cities who might have instructed in proper drafting of sentences? Plain-spoken country folk? Perhaps. I’d like to think that it isn’t just a case of tedious, urban hypocrisy.

  • Margaret Kelly
    April 21, 2013 10:15am

    Graphic images! Give me a break. When I was a kid you could see this in the local butcher shop when you were sent down to get tonight’s dinner! And I’m talking about suburban Brisbane in Australia. If people can’t deal with this they shouldn’t be eating meat.

  • April 21, 2013 10:40am
    David Lebovitz

    Yonatan: I had a lot of foods that I didn’t know the names of (since I don’t speak Arabic, it was hard to catch a lot of them.) But I ate very well! My friends who wanted the whole process said it wasn’t very graphic, although I did choose to sit it out..

    oinkoink: In deference to current events in Boston, and elsewhere, I avoided using certain words because some people have been strongly affected by what happened.

    J.S: Someone told me Jamie Oliver did a tv show where families told him how expensive it was to buy humanely raised meat. Then he showed them footage of factory farming, and the kids were crying and really upset by what they say, then they vowed to change their eating habits. Of course there are lots of factors that go into what people buy and eat and it was interesting to be a part of a traditional Lebanese meal. I also got to make these lovely little fried dumplings with the local women, but my hands were oily and covered with flour, so there are no pics ; )

  • April 21, 2013 11:09am

    if you are into food and you choose to eat meat you should be aware and know of where and how the stock is reared and by whom, how it is slaughtered and cut into pieces meat prepared and made to the dish you finally eat is elementary.

  • April 21, 2013 11:22am

    The photos are pretty ‘mild’, was expecting something more.
    Did you try kibbeh nayyeh (raw lamb)?

  • Kristin
    April 21, 2013 11:36am

    Nice post and great pics. Nothing disturbing at all.

    We eat fish (only caught fish, no farmed one), I can take out the guts etc, my partner rather sees only the filet on the plate. :)

  • April 21, 2013 12:56pm

    David, off subject, but a question: any idea where we might find a pizza stone in Paris. Walt will be coming to the city in May, and our pizza stone broke in two a few months ago. I’m not having much luck finding one on the web. Thanks, Ken

    I haven’t seen them in Paris – best to bring one from the states, or perhaps you can find one from Italy? – dl

  • DebbieSR
    April 21, 2013 5:22pm

    Considering how much I enjoy meat, I am so glad that I don’t have to go out and hunt it, kill it, cut it and clean it! It is always refreshing to know that some people take their job, no , art, seriously, and this can be done at any age. Kudos for the story and the pix–as always, you broaden our horizons and our appreciation of food! Thanks, David

  • Nick
    April 21, 2013 5:34pm

    There have a been several programmes on UK TV showing animal slaughter. One of the best was taking a group of “normal people” through the process to the end product. Not just meat, but the rendered fats, hides. bone and all the other stuff that we don’t think about. Clothing, makeup and additives for processed foods all derive from animal slaughter. And will continue to provide invaluable raw materials long after the oil has gone.
    I am fortunate and consider myself to be priveledged to be able to buy my meat products from a a small family run abbatoir. I caan see them arrive. A few weeks later, after proper hanging, I buy the flesh.

  • April 21, 2013 6:24pm

    I grew up on a farm in the Western U.S., and although I am close to vegetarian now (can’t pass up a backyard burger, sushi or dairy products in general), what I found interesting about the Middle East’s approach to meat was that they bragged to me about the meat at their McDonald’s being “fresh… much fresher” than in the USA.

    I thought of all the times I’ve heard steakhouses brag about “aged American beef.” Sorta laughed at it.

    So… did you find that you preferred one type of handling of meat better than another, David? Was fresh lamb better than what you might eat in the U.S. or Europe? I haven’t seen you eating a lot of beef on your trip, but I’m curious about that as well.

  • April 21, 2013 6:36pm

    When I was a child I went regularly with my mother to the chicken factory. We had to choose the ones we wanted and the heads would be chopped off and they would run about a bit. I took this to be a natural way to buy a chicken but I am sure my own children would be absolutely horrified by such a scene.

    A few weeks ago I was at Terroir D’Avenir in Rue de Nil watching the butcher prepare the pig’s head for the Frenchie chef. We had eaten the delicious tete de cochon the night before so it was sobering to see the pig’s head chopped open. I debated whether to put the pictures up on my blog and did in the end. I agree that we need to know from whence come the delights we eat.

  • Dan
    April 22, 2013 12:20am

    Excellent post, a fantastic read.
    Thanks David

  • MJ
    April 22, 2013 1:57am

    That was ridiculous.

    Ridiculously AWESOME! If we lived in a rural area – which are considering a lot more as of late – we would definitely kill what we ate and teach our daughter to do the same. You should have respect for what bounty comes from the earth and that includes how to do it justice by killing and preparing it. This is one thing I feel a lot of non-Jews don’t quite “get” sometimes. Kosher meat isn’t just about the way it’s prepared, but the respect that goes into how the animal is killed.

    Thanks for this great post!

  • Teresa F.
    April 22, 2013 5:27am

    Thanks for the post. When I was in Mongolia, we watched a family dispatch a sheep in a humane, calm, and quiet manner, then broke the animal down to the various parts. Each member of the family silently doing what needed to be done without saying much. Meat is an important part of Mongolian culture and cuisine, but they still did the work with reverence respect and wasted nothing. It was an impressive experience.

  • Robert Cox
    April 22, 2013 5:55am

    An excellent entry ….and not graphic at all. What a great and talented kid! Wish I was there to enjoy it.
    I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with your Paris restaurant reviews when I visit from Canada.

  • revvans
    April 22, 2013 6:59am

    Thanks for being so unsurprisingly respectful and, y’know, generally awesome.

  • April 22, 2013 7:51pm

    Thanks David for sharing impressive experience. The kid sure looked like he knows what he’s doing :-). I don’t find the picture challenging at all, informative, imho. It’s always fascinating to see how people in other cultures lives life. I remember when i was growing up in Viet Nam my mom bought live chicken from the market and my dad always did the prep, as it was the norm there. I am glad to learn that now in the US there are many farms that actually do the same thing instead for sending the animal off to factory, subjecting them to lots of stress.

  • April 22, 2013 10:27pm

    You can’t compare a 12year old boy from a rural region in lebanon with our 12year old children. Context :D

    But…. really… raw fat? WHY?
    brrr, I dont eat cooked fat or pastry filled with fat ( a maroccan thing) so i totally don’t understand how people eat raw fat.

    Beside of that: lovely blog and beautiful pictures.

  • April 22, 2013 10:54pm

    I grew up here and I remember every Sunday when the family went up the mountains for a picnic, we had next to us another family that would slaughter a goat for their lunch. I hated it then and still do today. Incidentally, a professor I talked to recently told me that in Lebanon there are 500,000 goats; most of the cows are imported. A lady I met in the Chouf was telling me of this sheep she raised and how she slaughtered him and oh, she said, his meat was so sweet. I still dont know how one can raise an animal and enjoy eating it.

  • Jess
    April 24, 2013 12:22am

    Growing up in Indonesia, I’m used to seeing animals running around and being butchered in the market (no, I didn’t see them butchered the meats). We even raised a chicken once, although it disappeared one day, I guessed we had it for dinner that day lol.

    However, when I was kindergarten (it’s probably the only thing I remembered at that age lol), I lived across from a mosque and when they have one of their celebrations (idul adha I think, it’s been a while since I last go back home on these holidays) which requires a sacrifice, usually goats. I accidentally saw them killed and butchered the goat and basically traumatize the kindergarten me. I can’t eat goat until now. Well, actually now I kind of can eat it if I have to and if it doesn’t smell. Same like lambs, I can eat it only if it doesn’t smell. My friends always teased me for not eating goat when they were all enjoying goat fried rice or goat soup (both are very popular as street foods and restaurants back home). T_T

    This post reminds me of that unfortunate incident which scars me for life. Reading your warning, I thought I had to see blood and all but it turned out nothing whatsoever like what I imagined :D.

    On a separate note, the coconut sugar you used for your fig chutney (I just finished reading this post as I’m reading your posts backwards haha) looks similar like our sugar. I don’t think I have ever heard it called coconut sugar but it might as well be it haha. We call it “gula merah” (“red sugar”) or “gula jawa” (javanese sugar) although when I saw it sold here in the asian market, it’s called palm sugar. We use it for cooking and for desserts.

  • cin
    April 25, 2013 5:53pm

    No disrespect meant, since I really enjoy your blog, but I can´t believe you apologise and have to warn people off the photos. Really? Are North Americans so sheltered? And yet how many violent and bloody images do they see from all the gun crime and violence?

    • April 25, 2013 6:03pm
      David Lebovitz

      Since I live in Europe – and spending my life in restaurant kitchens, I am used to seeing animals in various states but I have gotten messages from people (from places other than North America) who didn’t want to see certain things. As mentioned, it doesn’t bother me – but I respect that people don’t want to see certain things when they come to my blog. Unfortunately we can’t control what happens or we see on the news, although I wish we could.

  • J.O.
    April 25, 2013 9:23pm

    My 4 sons are growing up in North America supported by a family run agriculture business.They attend public universities studying animal science and crop and soil science. They can manage herds, inseminate, birth, hatch, feed, clean, doctor, butcher and cook beef, chicken, duck, quail, pig, fish, squirrel, deer, elk and who know what else! They will try anything. If you had the chance to spend time with these helpful young men and their friends the word “sheltered” would not come to mind. They would love to learn a few things from the boy in your post. Oh – they have never witnessed a gun crime or violence.

  • April 27, 2013 9:20am

    On our trip with Bethany she took us to a butchers (to buy some liver and fat for lunch) and we arrived in time to watch them work on cow, hanging on a hook at the back. The skill and speed at which they worked was hugely impressive. As was seeing the intestines, who knew quite how extensive these were? Not this city girl. I didn’t find it squeamish – perhaps because I was simply fascinated to watch them work. Then again I’m not the squeamish type and feel that, as a meat-eater, the thought of an animal being processed shouldn’t fill me with dread.

  • Kara
    April 29, 2013 1:07pm

    This doesn’t surprise me, my Nan was telling me recently that during WWI when she was about the same age she would kill and butcher a sheep a week for the family meat. Having been tricked into doing so by her older brother (she bragged that she could do it better having watched him). That and handling the horses for the seed sower, and managing a mixed wheat and sheep farm all through her teens.

    For context I’m Australian, and I believe Women on Farms War Poster had been put out at that time.

  • martie
    May 4, 2013 11:56pm

    I am a meat eater who believes in responsible practices, and have participated in the occasional humane slaughter of my food (I would do more, but the cost is prohibitive). That said, I would like to make the distinction between child labor on family farms and American farm labor that employs children as hourly – or, worse, piece rate labor.

    The 2012 child labor law revision was sunk on the propaganda that family farms would no longer use be able to use their children to milk cows or weed crops. Even though family farms were specifically excluded, the big agriculture lobby successfully convinced enough media shills that it would.

    In reality, big ag companies profit tremendously by driving parents to bring their children into the fields instead of school. Children can be paid less, can be paid under their parents’ names, are easily intimidated personally, and serve to intimidate the parents: If you are already using your children for income, and especially if either or all of you are undocumented, you can easily be threatened with reporting to CPS, school truancy officers or the INS.

    Who makes money from this? The big growers. In California, strawberries and other produce crops are particularly prone to abuse of children. In Florida, tomatoes that end up in an Iowa enchirito (or other mythical food) are often picked by indentured servants, including children.

    The young man you profile is obviously not a victim of this. He is a fine, upstanding citizen. My intent is to gently caution you against making an analogy to American agriculture because it is different here: very few American meat producers are family farms, and very few American consumers can afford the meat they butcher. By making these distinctions, we honor the work and skills of everyone who participates. That means this young man, as well as the children who are hooked into indentured servitude before they qualify for a driver’s license.