Where are the Real Badass Food Jobs? | Civil Eats

Where are the Real Badass Food Jobs?


According to cable TV, being a chef is pretty much the most badass profession out there. Not only are the physical trappings evidence of badassery – neck tattoos, devil-may-care hairdos – but there’s also lots of yelling, throwing stuff around, and general tough non-conformism. In the midst of the hard stares and big attitudes of the bad boy chefs, we’ve lost track of the true hardcore food professions – real culinary badasses.

I remember visiting a sheep farmer in Sardinia years ago. He built a fire from some sticks he gathered, milked his sheep and then made cheese in a giant cauldron. For lunch he grilled sausages in a pit and drank wild blueberry wine. He was maybe 5 feet tall. His front lawn had a clothesline of bloody dripping sheep skins that he had skinned himself that morning. He killed snakes with his knife. He made his own rennet. He had no tattoos. This shepherd – I’ve forgotten his name – remains pretty much my Badass Gold Standard.

The constraints I’ve put on this series are to focus – for now – on America. I’m also going to avoid profiling professions that become monstrously badass-ish simply because of unhealthy and dehumanizing  scale of the industrial food system (i.e. meat processing plant worker, King’s Valley strawberry picker). Crucial characteristics of a culinary badass:

  • Wisdom and skill
  • Toughness/stoicism
  • Regular exposure to extreme physical and climactic conditions
  • Regular contact with spines/teeth/poison, etc.

So – move out of the way you tattooed chefs – let’s raise our glasses to some true Culinary Badasses.

Gator Rancher


Clearly, no-brainer badassery. Key criteria: (1) Alligators!, (2) alligators!!, (3) alligators!!! Unfortunately, not much information is available about the details of these farms, but there are dozens of them in Louisiana and Florida. Over a million are raised every year in Louisiana for their meat, each gator weighs between 400 and 600 pounds. Usually the tail is harvested for meat, while the skin is sold for shoes and clothes.

Nopales Harvester

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Key Badass Criteria: (1) Long thick Spines, (2) short fine spines. Although there is apparently now a tool that minimizes contact with their thorns, Nopales are prickly little beasts to harvest. Made more badass by the dense way these paddles grow, the heat of the places they grow in, and the scary possibility that during harvest one of those paddles is likely to fall on your head.

King-crab Fisherman

Key Badass criteria: (1) cold weather, (2) isolation, (3) potential for death, (4) claws, (5) waves, (6) knot-tying amidst factors (1) through (5). Alaska crab fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in North America – the fatality rate is 90 times that of the average US worker. It involves 6+ days at sea at a time rocking around in small boats in huge icy waves. Just about 100 boats still fish for Snow and King crab in Alaska, check out the good times here.

Competitive Pumpkin Cultivator

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Pumpkin farming would not usually fit into the badass criteria. But, the recent epidemic of oversize pumpkin explosions and the subsequent potential for splatter elevate this profession into the zone. Competitive pumpkin growers feed their beasts liquid seaweed, protein shakes, and more, but occasionally overdo it, with disastrous consequences. Read more about it here.

Custom Slaughterers

Key Badass Criteria: (1) Firearm skill; (2) USDA circumvention. One exemplar of this category, John Taylor of JT’s Custom Slaughtering in Sebastopol, was most recently described to me with awe by a local winemaker as casually – and perfectly – shooting a steer from about 60 feet away. He and other local harvesters around the US have withstood the past decades of consolidation in the meat industry, practicing humane on-farm slaughter for farmers and direct buyers.

Have any nominees for badass food jobs? More to come.

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Anya Fernald was most recently Executive Director of Slow Food Nation, and has just launched a new venture - Live Culture Co. Read more >

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  1. Not to seem like a total wimp, but I'd like to nominate all the artisanal bakers out there ( they've got 1) daily, early morning wake up calls 2)isolation 3)working with high temperature ovens 4) keep alive ancient tradition) as contenders for the badass jobs. I'd also like to give a shout out to artisan butchers, thoughtful prep cooks, and hardworking servers and restaurant managers.
  2. I love this article!! I would add those of us who are holistic nutritionists to this list. I mean, there's not a whole lot of risk of death, but we do get excited talking about bowel movements. That's kinda tough.

  3. Organic hop producers. That's gotta be a bitch.

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