Adding Value to Death

Adding Value to Death

A theme throughout Sigfried Giedion’s Mechanization Takes Command is that the machinery developed to deliver death to an animal “quickly and without damage to the meat” was never as satisfactory as the skilled human hand (243). Even though a quick and clean slaughter is necessary to produce the best quality meat, I find it difficult to equate “artisan” with the murder of “500 hogs per hour” (Giedion, 244). To then push the animal onto a conveyor belt and through the disassembly line with various individuals hacking at different parts of the animal is not something I would consider artisan. The video above shows a true artisan slaughterhouse that uses machines and people to deliver death in a smooth, quiet, and patient manner. Taking a life is a life changing experience and one that can have negative or positive effects to the psyche of the individual taking it. The transition from life to death shouldn’t be a neutral and emotionless act, as Giedion says occurs in the mass murder of livestock, and instead should foster appreciation and respect for the animal and food it becomes.

The Artisan Beef Institute (2010) (Artisan Pork Institute coming soon) poses the question, “…are the producers in the business of raising protein that fits a certain government label such as grass-fed, USDA Grade (Prime, Choice, Select), or organic? Or are the ranchers, truckers, slaughterhouses, and butchers working together as a team to create a signature style flavor and texture of beef?” According to their criteria, artisan is defined by the latter question, which sounds an awful lot like a values-based value chain. I really like their description of artisan meat because each product expresses a unique breed, diet, bioregion, and aging technique (Artisan Beef Institute 2010). Figure 1 below distinguishes between mystery beef and artisan beef products.

Figure 1. Mystery beef compared to artisan beef. The artisan beef product is not only raised differently than the mystery beef, but it can also be traced to a specific farm, diet, bioregion, and aging technique (Source: Artisan Beef Institute 2010). 

To create an artisan product, I think an important component is the transfer the knowledge and skills associated with slaughter and butchery. In Durham, Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop offers hands-on butcher workshops and sausage-making classes. They source all of their animals locally, and sustainably, and sell value-added products that use the whole animal. Nowhere on their website do they claim to be artisans, but the products speak for themselves.


Artisan Beef Institute. 2010. “What Is Artisan Beef?”

Giedion, Sigfried. 1948. Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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