A Story With Meat On Its Bones

Uncle Carl by Brendan Lekan

I’m considering an intriguing collaboration.

Brendan Lekan is a really talented food photographer. His work appears in Time Out Chicago and other publications. You’ve probably seen his work without knowing it was his. He also happens to be a third generation butcher, whose grandfather founded the Paulina Meat Market at Lincoln at Addison.

We’re talking about maybe partnering up to make some kind of audio or multimedia slide show about the butcher shop. (Or about butchering, or farm to table, or something…not really sure what the story would be yet.) I think the subject matter has a lot of potential. For one it’s extremely visual, and visceral. All the bright colors of the meat in the deli case, the striking process of breaking down the animals. And, it has really interesting sound possibilities. The various saws and chopping block sounds, for example, or the back room butcher shop banter. Our conversation last night made me wonder if a pork chop sounds different from a t-bone steak. Finally, according to Brendan, all the butchers are real characters. I don’t doubt it. He let slip in conversation that when he was a teenager, his father told him that if he ever got a tattoo, he would take him to the shop and cut it right off! How many fathers can really threaten that?*

Also, while Brendan is a third generation butcher, I’m a committed vegetarian! A collaboration between the two of us could be an interesting story in and of itself. One of the things I have to figure out is whether I could stand to watch the butchers in action. I don’t even really like walking past the refrigerated meat section at the grocery store, or watching my mom open up a package of raw chicken; could I deal with watching someone saw a cow carcass in half?

Obviously the experience of documenting this space and these people would be very different for me as an outsider (and a vegetarian outsider at that) than it would be for Brendan, who grew up in the shop and has powerful emotional ties to it. That could be exciting, but also tricky. We’re both professionals, but we’d be coming from such different places I wonder what the results would be.

Anyway, these are just some of the things I’m thinking about after our conversation last night. It’s also making me think about other collaborations I’d like to pursue. Among them, something with the lovely and talented Jesse Seay. (Hi Jesse!) We’ve been talking about working together again, but nothing has come together yet. I was also talking to my  good buddy  Brendan Greeley about collaborating on this fantastic idea he had for Megapolis, but unfortunately with twin baby girls, he doesn’t have a lot of surplus time right now.

In the meantime, I’d be curious to hear peoples thoughts on the meat market idea. What would you or do you find most interesting about that kind of space? Or about the way meat makes it to your table, or doesn’t?

*It was a threat he never made good on. Brendan has, among other tattoos, a big bicep piece of his American bulldog, Ralphie.

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1 reply »

  1. I say: go for it! I understand about the meaty grossness aspect… but what you came up with could be really interesting. and real butchers, as opposed to slaughterhouses / “meat processing facilities”, are pretty rare these days, or *seem* extremely rare (to me, also still vegetarian). it would be interesting to spread the word that they still exist… that there are different ways of getting meat than buying it shipped across the country from a factory….

    anyways, yeah! I look forward to seeing/hearing what happens!

    love, jean

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