On Dressing a Cattle


It's a remarkable thing just how big a cow's stomach is.  It seems to take up the entirety of the animal, as if the rest were just an empty warehouse built solely to house an enormous engine of digestion.  When removed in the first stages of a formal slaughter it spills out of the belly cut as messy and misshapen as a newborn babe, filling an entire wheelbarrow as it is trundled off to be hosed down in some shady corner of the yard.  What's left is a much less formidable beast: an empty chamber of pasty reds and glaucous whites upon which a sort of reverse transubstantiation is performed.


The act of butchering an animal is the spiritual opposite of the art of creation.  Whereas an artist takes raw materials and works them into a complex form, a butcher takes a complex thing and with each pass of the blade transforms it into raw matter.  But make no mistake, butchery is not artless.  There is an order and precision to the way a skilled carnicero works.  It is as mystical an act as anything performed in a temple.  There may be no proper antonym for the word "miracle", but the process of butchering an animal is its performative equivalent.  The effect is a sobering disenchantment that is akin to watching the rote teardown of a carnival show: each loosened stake and untied rope is a fatal blow to the magic and wonder once contained within.  And when the last tarp is rolled up and carried off nothing of the mystery survives.

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