You’ve all heard about her – skilled butcher, soon-to-be published author and general whizz kid. We’ve finally managed to pin her down for the exclusive Wragg & Bones blog series.
GIRLS ON THE BLOCK
Female butchers are still the surprise. Walking into a butchers shop, most customers expect to see a big, burly man behind the counter and often, especially nowadays that just isn’t the case.
When I started in butchery aged 16, I had no idea how much this trade had to offer. From my beginnings as a counter girl, to working full time as a butcher and now back at GP to work on exciting new projects behind the scenes, there is so much more to butchery than meets the eye. Women who take a risk and enter this industry at a young age are finding that there is a lot less resistance than they ever thought for the multiple opportunities, but it all starts behind the counter with a knife in hand. For me, women butchers have a real respect for the carcass they’re cutting – they are careful and considerate, less wasteful and have a finesse to the final product.
For a job that demands so much of us physically, women are often overlooked, but the tables are turning. Throughout the UK, there are countless women making names for themselves within the meat industry; from farmers, to slaughterhouse workers, chefs to butchers, and here at Ginger Pig we’re lucky to have a handful of some of the very best out there.
I popped down to Hackney to chat with GP veteran Erika. Erika began with us 10 years ago in Waterloo as a deli girl, but wanted more. Her appetite to learn saw her starting with the butchers, and she’s never looked back since. Now a manager in Hackney, Erika is one of the finest butchers we have in the company.
Perhaps it might be down to the nature of the job that we don’t see to many women around. ‘Butchery is a messy, sometimes dirty job,’ says Erika. ‘We’re women, most of us like to do our makeup, have nice nails, nice hair. Butchery is different, you can’t have any of that.’
‘But for me, having dirty hands is good – I don’t mind the blood or the fat. It means that I’ve worked hard and done a good job.’
Female butchers it’s true, have to work harder than perhaps anyone to get the recognition that they deserve, however where customers are concerned there’s still a huge element of surprise that comes with the job. Just the other day in Loughton when I was breaking down a lamb, a lady approached the block: ‘Go on, girl! Don’t see many of you about.’
It was a real ‘girl power!’ moment, and there’s been plenty of them over the years. Erika agrees – customers are still surprised to see her behind the counter: ‘Oh yes, very surprised, and it’s very satisfying. They always say it’s so nice to see and they’re so proud to see it, you know?’
And what does this mean for the customer? According to Erika, the difference comes down to the customer service, and that isn’t necessarily down to being a man or a woman: ‘Customer service is everything; if you don’t provide professional, kind and friendly service then it really doesn’t matter who’s behind the counter – the customers will be put off.’
Good customer service is a core value that we hold dear to us at Ginger Pig, but I can’t help but wonder if customers do feel a little more relaxed when they see a female behind the counter and not a man. In New York a few years ago, I visited a butchers shop in Chelsea market down near the meatpacking district. A customer in our Moxon Street store had told me that the shop carried the Ginger Pig Meat Book on one of the vast shelves that lined the store from top to bottom. When I went inside though, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was wandering into a boys club, and that’s the thing about some butchers – it can certainly feel that way.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about whilst beginning to write my first book, Girl on the Block, about my time in butchery. How can we make butchers’ shop a less intimidating environment? Do women really make customers feel more at ease, and if so, how do we gt more women into butchery with such a stigma surrounding the job?
‘We need to show women that this job isn’t repetitive – every day is different, it’s so creative and not always about cutting meat. There’s so much to learn from farming to slaughter to butchery.’ Erika says. ‘There are tonnes of opportunities for women in so many areas.’
‘Interviews like this one can help to get the word out.’
And I agree with her. Thanks to the fantastic women we have working for us in farming, operations, marketing and behind the counter, we’re already showing the world that butchery is fast becoming female – and that’s only a good thing.