Our theory was that if we could give butchery instructions to ranchers, emphasizing a need for everything in as small and many cuts as possible, and create broad categories into which we would separate the cuts, we could divide anything up, more or less equitably, among members.
No matter how you butcher a cow, or pig, or lamb, there are always approximately the same percentages of cuts on them: whether a butcher chooses to grind it into hamburger or cube it for stew, about half of any cow is pretty tough stuff trimmed from other, more tender muscles. So every share we made would contain about half of that tough meat. The rest of the cuts we organized according to ease of preparation instead of their perceived values. For cows, all steaks went into one category (for pigs, all chops, shoulder chops, and sirloin), all two-pound roasts for braising into another, and all smaller braising cuts into another. If one share got only flank steak from the first category, we would try to make sure it also got short-ribs, an easily recognizable and recipe-friendly cut.
It worked. Dividing cuts of meat into the categories that we did enabled us to split a 500-pound cow into fifty small shares, instead of requiring Herculean meat-eating of any of our members. When we finally gave up the ad hoc distribution business, I vowed to make our lessons open source, so that people who had gotten accustomed to shares of local meat could repeat the process themselves.
On January 10, at Leo Cotella’s produce stand at the Oakland produce terminal, Slow Food Berkeley launched our new social networking/meat instructional/revolutionary meat-purchasing guide site. Its sixty members are already organizing whole-hog purchases and coordinated chicken pick-ups, and most of them have only met online, even though they live doors down from each other. We are hoping the very commonness of it all—the absence of fireworks or double-dares—gives it enough fuel to take off.