Yesterday’s Butchers Today

Part of coming to Portugal and visiting my grandparents means taking them to a supermarket. With my help they can pick up all the supplies they need to last them a month or more, that way they don’t have to ask help from friends or neighbors.

Living in a tiny town in what I like to call the middle of nowhere, we tend to go to the nearby bigger town to frequent their supermarkets. In the last decade the amount of supermarkets has mushroomed from 1 to as many as 4 or 5.

As I push the cart down the aisles, and my grandparents struggle to take a good look at the type of meats behind the meat counter, I  take a few minutes to watch the people behind the counter.

Sharpening his blade, I watch a gentleman who must be in his late 60’s, joking with one of the other employees behind the meat counter. His white coat full of blood stains, I noticed the ease and skill with which he does his work. It became clear that this man had been a butcher for most of his adult life. Yet the supermarket has only been there for 6 or 7 years, so where was he a butcher before?

My mind continued to wander, 7 years ago… hell.. 14 years ago.. he was probably a butcher in a local butcher shop, now long since closed down. As I glanced at the back of the store, I watched the fish lady tending to customers ordering fish. Here again was someone who knew her job well, and before the days of the supermarket, had surely done her job in a local fish market, many of which have been scaled down or simply closed.

Both the fish lady and the meat man seemed to be doing ok on the job, here at the big supermarket. I could speculate that their wage is probably pretty small and the amount of rules and regulations they’re subject to, would have to be greater. But the question that kept coming back to be is this: Are they better off? Are we better off as a community and a society, with this brave new world where our local shops and specialties are replaced. From the wages to the working conditions to the human connection of feeling like your job is valued and valuing your work, is this new way sustainable?

As we collected our things and made our way out of the shop, I took one more look at the butcher. He was explaining to a younger kid how to properly chop some kind of meat. I wondered about what his job used to be like… the changes he’s seen.. the life he leads.


  1. Keith
    April 21, 2008

    I enjoyed that one Marko. While watching some of the foreign (to me) films I’ve seen, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to visit specialty shops… The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker! Everyone was a master at their craft. You knew you could walk in there and ask anything, and they would know.

    The thing that annoys me is that supermarkets are all becoming gourmet! Choice cut meats blah blah blah. Don’t get me wrong, I like good food! But, isn’t that what we had before, with the butcher? Wasn’t it the people that stopped going to the local butcher because he’s too expensive and you could get twice as much at the local supermarket? Hell, we even join food clubs like Costco, Sams, and BJs just to save a buck!

    And now we have these supermarkets paying inexperienced teenagers to sell gourmet meats for the same price as what people used to pay at a butcher! These businesses had a great idea, but once again we are the suckers.

    • bicyclemark
      April 24, 2008

      Tell it keef tell it! How do these execs make these decisions? talk about out of touch and ass backwards. the good-bad news is that with the cost of fuel skyrocketing and cost of food following… this big stores are going to hit a major speed bump and the value of a local shop could make a big comeback. if there are any left.

  2. April 22, 2008

    Very nice story. I have been out of Portugal for the last two weeks…in the Middle West of the United States…that is one great country, the big cities and the countryside like you write about here. I already miss Lisboa, and my butcher, the Loja de Carne just of of Av. Liberdade. The best cutters in town. Can’t wait to get back. Great writing man.

    • bicyclemark
      April 24, 2008

      Thank you, the butcher is indeed (despite that fact that Im a veggie) an interesting and skilled worker whos job may soon go extinct in favor of.. well.. .him/her doing the job with a paper hat in a large chain store.

  3. DROCK
    April 22, 2008

    I prefer the sandwich computers at Sheetz – a touch screen has pictures of all the sandwiches, you can modify them anyway you want with an endless choice of condiments and fixings. When you’re done hit “enter” and some person makes your sandwich and it appears right there before you mistake free. Then swipe your debit card on the express lane and you can get lunch and pay for it without having to talk to anyone. The future is bright

    • bicyclemark
      April 24, 2008

      Wait a minute.. you actually have to go there to get your food? how annoying.- Robots should bring that to your house and it should all be web based, who has time to go to a place just for food.

      • Keith
        April 24, 2008

        damn this thread is funny!

  4. DROCK
    April 24, 2008

    It’s not like I drive to rural Virginia or North Carolina to get my meals but when traveling finding a is awesome. After being at a race in the heat all day and having to drive for hours to get home I don’t really feel like making small talk with deli counter people. I like touch screens, I like pictures, I like my order being correct and I don’t like shooting the shit in bumblefuck VA at 1am when I’m tired.

    Plus those good old butcher types used to give me such a hard time when I was little and would go to Yedis on Morris Ave in Union for a sandwich. Oh man they used to bust my balls and all I wanted was a damn ham sandwich.

    While you might like making small talk with every butcher, baker and freaking candlestick maker thankfully we have touch screens, self check out and ordering online.

    Maybe you should attend more renaissance festivals from what I hear there are blacksmiths, cobblers and goodly inn keepers that would to chat about the village’s news and gossip. Oh hold on the phone is ringing…Hey Mark it’s the 1600’s and they want to know when you’re going to join them

    “(despite that fact that Im a veggie)” – Mark

    Yeah sure do like your vegetables especially when their smothered in all that chicken, turkey and fish you eat


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