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I was speaking to a M colleague last night, and neither of us had the answer to this question:

 

When a chef says they're "breaking down whole animals" (as opposed to the more direct word, butchering them), where exactly did that phrase originate? Anyone know?

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I did, of course, have the interesting answer to a different question. "Harvesting animals" derives from wildlife preservation practices where necessary culling is seasonal, dependent on birth-cycles, and quite sensibly called "harvesting."

 

Calling it "harvesting" when you kill a pig to sell its meat is offensively dumb.

 

I would be interesting in an answer to the question above, though.

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It's an interesting question.

 

My opinion is that it started when people who were not butchers by profession began working with whole (or halves or quarters) of animals. For example a chef working with a front quarter of beef in the restaurant.

 

It's also noteworthy that butchering in more of a factory setting is typically called meat cutting. So, someone at Hormel who is working with knives to create cuts of meat from hogs is referred to as a meat cutter and not a butcher.

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Merriam-Webster:

 

1a : to cause to fall or collapse by breaking or shattering b : to make ineffective <break down legal barriers>

2a : to divide into parts or categories b : to separate (as a chemical compound) into simpler substances : decompose c : to take apart especially for storage or shipment and for later reassembling

 

Yes, you "break down" a theater set, for example, but with the purpose of putting it back together again. I think Oakie suggested "decomposition" - which is not very appetizing.

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Maybe it's the supermarkets I go to. They have cuts they're not getting from mainstream suppliers, and the butchers have bloody aprons which I assume are not for show. In fact, I've seen them walking around with pieces of animal over their shoulders.

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I am certainly not talking about skills, but there's all those packs of end cuts, and bits and pieces, plus a definite variation in size and shape of cuts in general, that it seems to me an artisanal process is taking place. :lol:

 

(See, I've always had an interest in the odd bits and pieces.)

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The term "break it down" has become more popular. News programs will raise an issue, say, taking a loan from your 401k, and then send it over to the financial correspondent to "break it down" for you.

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Maybe it's the supermarkets I go to. They have cuts they're not getting from mainstream suppliers, and the butchers have bloody aprons which I assume are not for show. In fact, I've seen them walking around with pieces of animal over their shoulders.

 

I mean supermarkets in Wisconsin, where the cool kids are from.

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Of the markets I frequent the most, Pathmark, Whole Paycheck, and Jubilee have butchers who cut meat; Food Emporium does not any more (used to, though).

 

YMMV

 

The original question, one of semantics more than merchandising, could be interesting to research. Some day, maybe.

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