By Juliana Adelman
Today I sat down to an unexpectedly exciting read. In 1891 Daniel Tallerman published a slim volume entitled “Railway abattoirs” and other papers relating to meat distribution. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but Tallerman was a gold mine for me. Finally here was someone who wrote about the livestock and meat trade as though the reader would know NOTHING! Frustratingly, it wasn’t just the primary source literature on meat that assumed levels of knowledge I did not have. Even historians seemed to think that I would know something beyond the fact that beef and pork come from different animals. I was beginning to think I would have to apprentice myself to a butcher for a week (although that’s probably not a bad idea either).
But why oh why should I care about a piece of meat? By the 1890s, Ireland was exporting over one million animals annually to feed booming British towns and most of them passed through Dublin. Meanwhile, in Chicago, refrigeration and the disassembly line had turned a cattle distribution centre into a ‘dead meat’ one almost overnight. American meat was even shipped to Britain. [The image is from the Chicago stockyards]. Curiously, the Irish trade remained almost immune to these changes. Instead, Irish cattle were shipped to Britain where they were often ‘finished’ (grazed or stall fed for a final fattening) and then sold as Scottish or English animals for slaughter. I’m still trying to understand exactly why this happened, in complete contradiction to what happened almost everywhere else. I suspect it was a combination of economic and cultural factors, not least of all the power, influence and conservatism of the Irish cattle salesmasters.
Like a good Victorian, Tallerman was appalled by the waste and inefficiency he saw as inherent in this system. He calculated that Irish beasts lost more than 37,000,000 pounds of flesh in the stress of transit thereby depreciating in value by over £1 million. There were also losses in terms of manure not recycled to the farm and offal discarded or sold off cheaply in Britain. His suggested remedy was to slaughter beasts as close to the farm as possible and then to process them by an intricate system, extracting every last bit of value.
Tallerman put his money where his mouth was by setting up ‘The Irish Meat Company’ in Dublin. In a kind of model slaughterhouse he created a processing depot to produce prime cuts of dead meat for sale in London and cooked or preserved products such as spiced beef. Not content to profit from his own enterprise, he proposed the creation of a teaching train to travel around the country spreading the new gospel. The 14 car train was to exhibit the most efficient means of conducting each stage of processing an animal from slaughter to steak.
Contemporary advocates of ‘nose to tail’ eating would find much to admire in Tallerman’s zero waste system. Reading it made me almost viscerally aware of the trail of refuse created by a single supermarket steak. In case you are curious, here is how Tallerman suggested that a cow or ox should be processed:
1. Slaughter (collecting blood for later use)
2. Division of the carcass into prime cuts for roasting and everything else
3. Prime cuts sold to butchers
3. ‘Boiling joints’ and edible offal to be made into a number of products including sausages, soup bases and cured meats
4. Bones to be digested into their various mineral components for use as fertiliser
5. Hides to be tanned, horns and hoofs to be made into a number of products including glue, buttons, etc
6. Entrails cleaned for sausage skins and gut cord
7. Blood separated for conversion into albumen (used in a number of chemical processes, including photography) and fertilizer
Conor McCabe has written a piece on this trade in the twentieth century (which remained one in live animals) over on Dublin Opinion which you can read here.