The morning is chilly and bright. A sheen of frost covers the picnic tables and the wooden deck, the nearby pond is shimmering in the morning light, and the towering evergreens sway in the breeze. This idyllic setting belongs to the YMCA’s Camp Duncan, located just outside of Chicago. Inside the cozy cabin kitchen there are biscuits in the oven and sausage gravy simmering on the stove. After breakfast there will be an entire 250 pound hog delivered to the back porch, followed by lessons in whole animal butchery, pate and sausage making, and grilling and smoking. This is Grrls Meat Camp.
I first learned of Meat Camp via Kate Hill's Kitchen at Camont blog and through last year's Washington Post coverage of the inaugural event. It's a gathering of chefs, butchers, bakers and enthusiastic home cooks. It's a weekend of food, fun, and ultimately of camaraderie and encouragement.
The group's Facebook mission statement reads: "To inspire, educate and foster sisterhood through a cooperative collaboration of women . . ." with an aim of "giving voice to those working with animals and meat on farms, butcher shops, restaurants and home."
It was an inspiring weekend, and not just because of all the delicious food.
It was a salon, of sorts, with conversation focused on sustainability, ethical farming, and our shifting food systems.
Even more moving, perhaps, were the personal stories shared of learning a craft that didn't typically welcome gender diversity. At Grrls Meat Camp, though, we were all in the front row. We all had access to new knowledge and experience, and were encouraged to participate.
At one point over the weekend I over heard a conversation between two of the butchers who were discussing the most physically difficult parts of their job. "If you have the right tools, you can do anything. Anything is possible if you've got the right tools." It's true of butchery, sure, but it struck me as some advice for life's work in general. "The right tools" could mean sharp knives and saws, but also the strength an individual receives from a supportive community. Many women I met this weekend were self-educated and self-motivated, their successful careers the products of their own initiative. Even the professional food photographer who was busily shooting stills of the beautiful dishes coming out of the kitchen agreed: No one taught her to be a photographer, she taught herself. So, even if you have no desire to butcher a hog or some beef hip, these lessons from Meat Camp resonate with those of us finding our way---in the kitchen, and beyond.