Filmmaker takes a rare look inside a local slaughterhouse

Last week, we featured a video by New York City food blogger Liza de Guia, who recently visited the northern Catskills to make a two-part mini-documentary about slaughterhouses. This week, we return for a peek at Part II. For anyone who grew up on a farm, the images here may be familiar. But for readers who haven't seen first-hand the process of how a cow or a sheep becomes food, this film will be eye-opening (and, be warned, graphic -- the film shows several animals being killed and processed).

In Part I of her film, de Guia interviewed Chris Harmon of the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship about the need for more slaughterhouses to meet the growing demand for local, grass-fed and artisanal meat. Here, she interviews local meat cutter Larry Althiser, of Larry's Custom Meats in Hartwick.

In this extraordinary film, Althiser speaks frankly about the business and ethics of killing animals for meat, the people he feeds, and the farmers who bring their animals to him for slaughter. Though Althiser is conscientious about humane methods of slaughter, death and blood are an inescapable part of the process. That he was brave enough to welcome de Guia's camera throughout the entire process speaks volumes about his pride in his operation.

On her blog, de Guia writes that it was a hard topic for her to cover:

I spent two days upstate with Larry at his brand new processing plant to learn firsthand how animals become food – a rare opportunity to tell the story of transparency in the meat industry. Truth be told, I was very, very anxious going into this shoot. The night before, I tossed and turned in my bed, restless for hours. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to see the whole process, to film what I’d been shy to film for years. But, I had to do it. It’s a story I wanted to tell, a good story about a proud butcher open to teaching his trade, and a story I felt compelled to share with many others, like me, who didn’t want to be disconnected to their food any longer.

Slaughterhouses must exist and thrive so that small farmers can raise animals, sell meat and keep their farms alive. And animals have to die for us meat-eaters to eat. It’s a food system that goes hand in hand. But, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. The Center for Agricultural Development & Research (CADE), featured in Part 1 of this series, believes Larry does things right. So if I was going to show you a kill floor for the first time, this was it.

So far, Althiser and de Guia have gotten a lot of positive responses to the film, including a glowing mention from Grub Street, a prominent NYC food blog. Here's a comment left on Food Curated by a viewer:

Thanks to a nod from the COMFOOD listserv, I just found FoodCurated and this video. You’re doing excellent, beautiful and much needed work. Thank you so much!! As a daughter of upstate New York dairy farmers and a meat eater who relishes knowing where my meat comes from, this issue is very close to my heart.

The steady pan of your camera during processes was a breath of fresh air; a brave endeavor to tell it like it is and acknowledge all the feelings and processes that goes into the death of animal and the subsequent birth of fresh steaks and succulent sausages. And Larry makes me proud!

And a thoughtful comment left by a vegetarian:

Just to offer a little background on where I am coming from, I’ll start off by saying I don’t eat meat for ethical reasons. Having said that, I was struck by Larry the meat cutter’s statement of how he doesn’t take pride in taking an animal’s life, that his service is a response to consumer demand. Of course, you almost expect anyone who slaughters animals for a living to say that on film, but I was surprised to see that sadness and remorse expressed in his body language and voice. I pretty much feel the same way Larry does, fortunately I have discovered professional opportunities for myself outside of industries that directly exploit animals. Still, in a way, I understand how someone could get so close to something they despise– like slaughtering animals– in the hopes of at least improving a food system that is so tremendously flawed.